*Skip the premise if you read the previous posts*
Regarded by many as the best horror director working today, James Wan (27 February 1977) went on also screenwriting and producing many of his movie as well as various flicks connected to his works, such as the Saw and Insidious sequels.
Being able to revitalise several horror clichés, such as tiresome jump-scares and redundant possession-driven plots, Mr. Wan is surrounded by a claque of die-hard fans.
Independently from the single person’s opinion, throughout the last 15 years or so James Wan has had a strong impact of both the independent horror market and the public discussions on the genre. Because of his impact, I decided to analyse and review his movie from the perspective of a neutral horror-lover and passionate moviegoer. I hope you will enjoy this new series.
The Conjuring (2013) tells the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorrain Warren, an actual couple who, from the 1950s to the 1970s, studied numerous cases connected with possible supernatural activities. To my knowledge, though, The Conjuring franchise as well as the 17 (!) Amityville Horror films are only loosely based on the actual – and quite controversial – events.
That said, in this flick Ed (Patrick Wilson, by then established as the official James Wan’s muse) and Lorrain (Vera Farmiga) are facing a demon who, allegedly, is haunting a dilapidated farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, where Roger and Carolyn Perron move with their five daughters (poor dad, his life should have been a nightmare even before the move). And their lovely dog.
Again, the plot is quite similar to the Insidious films and tons of other generic flicks we all have seen thousands of times. Which is the reason why, despite all the praises, I’ve always shied away from The Conjuring (don’t stone me yet, please) until I decided to give it a try at the end of 2016. Also, this is one of my girlfriend’s all-time favourite horror movies, which is why I chose to start this series, beyond the popularity of the director.
Before I dive into the movie I should explain that I decided to cover the two films within the same post because, as for Insidious, I can’t help but consider them as a two-part movie, as a whole.
With the biggest budget to his disposal so far (£20 million), Mr. Wan opted for better locations and a more open and intriguing cinematography, which he has combined with his unique, stylised touch we’ve seen previously in Insidious and Dead Silence. Through these clever choices, he’s been able to improve upon his previous works and, contemporarily, not falling into the trap of using CGI or cartoonish imagery.
Yet, another improvement regards the characters and their chemistry. Although Insidious already had an interesting character development, in The Conjuring the interrelationship between the couple of demonologists and the Perron adds a layer of complexity which makes for a compelling story where it’s really easy to root for our protagonists.
Furthermore, Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren is highly convincing and represents a great replacement for Rose Byrne. Similarly, Mr. Wilson knocks it out of the park, proving once again that his connection with the director is great. Such a lovely bromance! The casting is spot on in regards to everyone, since every single member of the Perrons has a distinct, quite tangible personality and attitude.
As per usual, the jump-scares serve as an embellishment of the atmosphere, which is also supported by a great score and the scariest opening credits Warner Brothers has ever had.
Another aspect this film should be acclaimed for is the lack of killings and gore, which underlines the talent of James Wan and his crew at generating fear and creepiness without relying on violence, disgust and disturbing images.
However, the first sequence (the one with Annabelle in it) and the ending are not very fulfilling, at least for me. Also, think about it: if Wan wouldn’t have started the movie with that stupid doll, now we wouldn’t have that abomination against cinema also known as Annabelle (2014). And its sequel, which comes out this year and I will have to review it… damn it!
Despite those minute details, I honestly appreciate The Conjuring. I have seen it twice now and I want to see it again, thanks to its rewatchability factor, entertaining story, stunning cinematography, great characters and acting, awesome soundtrack.
The Conjuring 2 (2016) gave me the same feeling. Again, Wan directed the sequel to tell a story and tell it in an intriguing, exciting and entertaining way, not only to get more money or for pure fan service.
This time around we are in an English shire, specifically in a small town where the Hodgson family – mostly their daughter, though – are hounded by not only one, but even three different paranormal entities: The Old Man, The Crooked Man and the most vicious one, Valak (or The Nun).
As I mentioned above, an aspect I really like about this movie is that it feels like the natural continuation of the first instalment.
However, The Conjuring 2 improves upon the first film by giving a deeper and more intriguing backstory to the Hodgson, taking its time to make the audience care for them. Indeed, this movie has an incredibly long runtime of 134 minutes, which feel surprisingly fast instead, due to the pacing and the brilliant execution that never allow a single dull moment.
Yet, Ed and Lorrain are the strengths of this film as well, as it was in the previous. If it’s possible, their relationship and their emotions are highlighted even better than in The Conjuring. And Vera Farmiga’s performance is indubitably astounding.
Again, the atmosphere is creepy and unsettling, a slumber tone and vibe characterises the entire film. The English rain definitely helps in achieving that sensation (trust me, it happens in real life as well…).
However, for this movie James Wan could count on a 40-million-pound budget which, despite helping him to improve some technical aspects, made him make the mistake to utilise the CGI where it wasn’t needed. The Crooked Man, in fact completely made up through special effects, looks laughable instead of scary and doesn’t match with the other villains, way more believable because made with practical effects.
Also, there is an overabundance of enemies in this movie: The Old Man seems a cheap device to maintain the suspense and the film would simply have been better without The Crooked Man. Nevertheless, Valak is quite convincing, very frightening and the CGI, mixed with practical effects, makes for a compelling villain. No surprise then when a spin-off titled The Nun has been announced (oh crap… let’s hope it’s better than Annabelle).
All in all, I prefer the Conjuring to its sequel, although for some aspects the second instalment was able to improve upon the first, which is not that obvious nowadays. I still recommend to watch both movies as the two part of a same story, at least to enjoy the characters development and the great directorial skills of Mr. Wan.
In conclusion: although my personal taste makes me prefer unconventional horror movies, where the genres mix and combine to create original products, I think James Wan is indeed one of the best horror directors working today, especially when it comes to atmosphere, practical effects and style to the service of mass audiences’ pleasure. Even though I recognise Saw as his best movie, from a technical and storytelling standpoint, my favourite one is probably Insidious, followed closely by The Conjuring. Check out all his horror flicks, though, you won’t waste your time. Cheers!