Horror seems to be getting tiresome nowadays. They rely more on cheap scares and gore instead of an eerie atmosphere. Enter James Wan. Two years after directing the sleeper hit Insidious (made on a $1.5 million budget), he uses his tricks to tell the true story of a haunting in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Seeing The Conjuring two years ago in theaters (and again just recently on DVD), this is what horror movies are all about.
Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are two of the most well-known paranormal investigators in the world. In 1971, before tackling the horrors in Amityville and Southington, Connecticut, they hear about bizarre occurrences in Harrisville witnessed by Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lily Taylor) and their five daughters—Andrea (Shanley Caswell), April (Kyla Deaver), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy), and Nancy (Hayley McFarland). The terror includes the clocks stopping exactly at 3:07 every morning, Carolyn waking up with bruises, and Christine feeling her legs being tugged. The Warrens agree to help the family to get rid of this entity. However, this investigation might require an exorcism.
It’s rare for the MPAA to give a horror movie an R-rating for being scary as hell. Yes, it does have the horror clichés such as a family moving into a house where evil lives and seeing things that nobody else sees. Wan knows how to conjure up each scene—pun intended—with just enough tension and atmosphere with his use of point-of-view shots, brief tracking shots, and little to no CGI whatsoever.
With a good cast, Farmiga and Wilson’s portrayal of the Warrens are the heart and soul of the movie. Lorraine has a gifted power to see what she can only see. In one scene, Carolyn is putting up one of her family photos. Lorraine gets her hand on the frame and sees an image of the family spending the day at the beach. “It’s an insight…it’s like a peek through the curtain into another person’s life,” she says to Carolyn as to wondering how she knew. It’s as if God brought the couple together for a reason, as Lorraine says to her husband.
As surprisingly touching as The Conjuring is, it also has a lot of creepy images. The movie opens up with the 1968 investigation of the Annabelle doll. Even though she’s a Raggedy Ann doll in real life, she’s a ventriloquist doll in the movie (one of James Wan’s horror trademarks since Dead Silence). Two young women keep seeing a message saying “Miss me?” written with a red crayon. It’s impossible not to get shivers sent down your spine. It’s a shame that the scary doll made an appearance in a disappointing spin-off. There’s also a dead body hanging herself on a tree, a maid with her wrists slit (“Look what she made me do.”), and Lorraine making her investigation in the basement. This movie is nothing but good old-fashioned horror; a breath of fresh air. This is a franchise to pay attention to for years.