Cameron's Review of The Conjuring
Don't worry, "Saw" fans, because James Wan is back to do yet another film about creepy, evil dolls that mess with people, and he's apparently learned his lesson since "Dead Silence", seeing as how this film plays up all sorts of stuff much more than a creepy doll. People, we've had more than a few "Child's Play" films to teach us that it's harder to make dolls all that scary than you'd think, but then again, we've also had a whole lot of recent films that teach us that it's hard to make a good haunted house film, yet James Wan says, "Nay, mate!" First we've got DragonForce's Herman Li to prove to us that Hong Kong Brits do, in fact, exist, and that really good metal can still be made, and now we've got Malaysians in Australia, proving that there's still some kick to haunted house films, so the Asians seem to be making pretty good progress in outshining the world, at least until their next project. I like how this James Wan and Patrick Wilson collaboration is ostensibly supposed to be some kind of a warm-up for "Insidious: Part 2", and it's likely to be better than "Insidious: Part 2", probably because Wan is trying to compensate for the last couple of "Amityville Horror" films. Yeah, this is actually based on the same accounts that inspired "The Amityville Horror", except this time, it really does portray... the actual story as it "allegedly" happened; dun-dun-yeah, sure, whatever. Sorry, Lorraine Warren, as well as the now departed Ed Warren (I thought Lorraine was supposed to be among "the departed"; Get it, Vera Farmiga fans?), but I'm not buying the story more, partially because this film couldn't even get the timeline right, being set in a span of time that is nothing compared to the... "nine years" that the Perron family really spent in this house. So yeah, if nothing else is proven by this film, it's that white people really don't know when it's time to get out of a haunted house, which isn't to say that you can forgive all of the questionable elements in this film, which is good and all, but still haunted by its own problems.
These types of meditative ghost thriller have a tendency to get too meditative for their own good, and while this film's thoughtful chills are particularly effective, at almost two hours, the final product definitely gets to be too meditative for its own good, going dragged out by excess filler that eventually leads to repetition, made all the more limp by some dry spells in atmosphere. On top of draggy, these films get to be dull, what with all of the atmospheric cold spells, and while this film never loses so much bite that it's ever dull, or even all that bland, there are times where compellingness goes distanced by than reinforced by the thoughtfulness, especially when meditations run out of material, which, make no mistake, is very much limited. Needless to say, the depth that is put into this story concept opens a lot more doors for a rewarding final product than your usual premise that treads along these lines, but there's still only so much that you can do with a simple haunted house "thriller", and more this film struggles to find something to do, the more unfocused it feels. There really isn't all that much to complain about with this film, and what missteps there are in storytelling are so common at this point that their severity has kind of been watered down, but meat is just so limited within this premise, and you have plenty of opportunities to think about that when "haunted" by questionable pacing, as well as by familiarity. Now, this film cuts through all of that "Inspired by..." junk and actually works to stay "faithful" to a "true" story, so supernatural enthusiasts who are familiar with this pretty notorious case certainly know where the tale ends, but there's no excusing this film for its being so predictable, because the film will be so much more inspired than your usual haunted house thriller, then fall right back into tropes and conventions with its set pieces and plotting, which are ultimately formulaic enough to make the limitations in this familiar tale all the clearer. Again, the film's biggest shortcomings are natural, but limitations really do shake much of the bite of this thriller, especially when backed by pacing issues and tropes that are ultimately so considerable that they betray much of what potential there is to this story concept. Really, when I first heard about this film, the only thing that scared me was the possibility that this would fall short, and into being just another cheap ghost story for the commercial audience, and even then, we're so used to those type of ghost flicks that we've come to expect it more than fear it, which leads me to tell you that you shouldn't believe what the shameless marketers tell you, as the film ultimately goes well beyond my fears, maybe not to where it hits all that hard, yet certainly to where it compels about as much as any installment in this streak of haunted house thrillers, partly because it looks too good to turn away from.
Okay, maybe the film isn't exactly stunning, but cinematographer John R. Leonetti defines much of this film through visual style, offering a certain '70s film-like haze that sells the era, and is flavored up by such modernist filming sensibilities as crisp definition that soaks up the depth of harsh coloring, as well as sparse lighting, which joins stylish framing in capturing a sense of claustrophobia. Even style breathes a fair bit of life into this premise, which does indeed offer plenty of potential to bring to life, for although this story is minimalist and familiar, even if you're not that familiar with the infamous "true" story upon which this thriller is based, it remains intriguing, with some refreshing elements, or at least feels kind of refreshing, thanks to an intelligence within Chad and Carey Hayes' script that has sorely been lacking in films of this type, and can be found within such lighter touches as clever set pieces that add to a sense of consequence, as well as within a human element that has been particularly underplayed in "character-driven" thrills of this nature. In way too many haunted house films of this nature, the characters feel pretty thinly drawn, as though they're mere, if you will, "mediums" through which ghostly chills are delivered, or at least attempted, but what gets this film by in a lot of ways is its human touch, as limitations in immediate development go compensated for by well-rounded, very human gradual characterization that bring the characters down to earth in order for them to be sold as effective audience avatars, while distinguishing those threatened by deeply disturbing happening in order to firmly establish a dramatic core that reinforces compellingness pretty considerably. You can feel the depth within and chemistry between these characters, even on paper, and when it comes to the portrayals of the characters, this cast is nothing short of worthy, with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson being charismatic and convincing as well-experienced experts of the supernatural who face challenges beyond their expectations when confronted with more than they can chew, while each one of the portrayers of the members of the Perron family that gave Ed and Lorraine Warren this unparalleled task share a chemistry and emotional range that convinces you of the intense terror faced by the haunted, and thus draws you deeper into the heart of this character drama. Acting material is kind of limited in this film, no matter how well-drawn the characters are, but the performances remain strong enough to drive much of the depth of this very psychological film, and yet, what truly powers this film is, of course, James Wan's offscreen performance. Wan's storytelling isn't impeccable, but it ultimately solidifies the final product as stronger than your usual haunted house fare, because even when atmosphere chills out, dullness never really kicks in, as pacing is kept brisk enough to offer a fair degree of consistent entertainment value and intrigue, punctuated by thorough effectiveness, anchored by a profoundly atmospheric attention to haunting imagery and claustrophobic environment, with few hallmark scares, - such as jump scares and gore - as well as a grounded intensity that haunts and chills to the bone. For me, the film probably isn't quite as scary as plenty of people are saying it is, but it's certainly a whole lot more effective than plenty of films of this nature, and that reflects the inspiration which makes the final product good, on top of scary, for although I wish that the film was a little more consistent in bite, the style, compellingness and effectiveness of this thriller ultimately reward.
When the dark air has been cleared, you're left with a final product that suffers from such familiar missteps as repetitious dragging, atmospheric cold spells and tropes, which emphasize natural shortcomings enough to place a serious threat on the rewarding final product's reward value, which ultimately perseveres on the backs of immersive photography, well-rounded characterization, strong acting and thoroughly effective direction, which bring enough life to an intriguing premise to make "The Conjuring" a relatively particularly chilling and compelling highlight in the recent haunted house thriller movement.
3/5 - Good