Horror movies are the ultimate test of directorial skill. It’s not the words that make it scary, it’s the camera, the performance, and how things are revealed. And watching The Conjuring it’s obvious that James Wan is a remarkable talent, and it’s great that he’s moved into the big time as his next project is Fast and Furious 7. He’s got it. The Conjuring follows two families. The Warrens (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson) are ghost hunters who uncover real and fake hauntings, while the Perrons (headed by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) are an ordinary family whose new house is haunted. The two cross paths in this supposed true story. My review of The Conjuring on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The Perrons are a lower middle class family with father Roger (Livinston) a trucker. Their new house is spacious and must have been a bargain, but it comes with evil spirits. The Warrens give lectures at universities when not working, and the film opens showing a lecture/flashback of them collecting one of the evilest enchanted items they’ve ever run in to: a creepy doll. Eventually they’re asked by Carolyn Perron (Taylor) to check out her house, because the events have been getting worse and worse.
Narratively speaking, there’s not much meat on the bone here. But what is apparent is that the film is built around scare set-pieces, which happen with great frequency. Tone is the key to making these films work, and Wan is brilliant at set ups and payoffs. For whatever reason the MPAA decided to rate this film R, and it speaks to Wan’s talent: There’s not a lot of blood so it got the rating for intensity. Which is sad considering this means that something like Poltergeist would undoubtedly get an R rating these days. But I guess children must be protected from intensity.
The Conjuring is very similar to Poltergeist in that both are fun haunted house movies. It’s a ride, and though the film might not be that disturbing intellectually, it’s consistently engaging because the scares are based on anticipation and unexpected payoffs. It’s like everyone involved studied the Ben Harper boat sequence in Jaws, the rise of the shark in Jaws, and the first T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park. That’s a lot of Steven Spielberg comparisons, but it’s earned. Even if the film doesn’t make much of a lasting impression, it’s a rollercoaster of a ride while watching it.
New Line’s Blu-ray comes with a DVD and digital copy. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD master audio. The transfer is excellent, though it also shows that the film was shot digitally, and loses the film-like texture every once in a while. The film was a huge hit this summer (no surprise), and it was one of the biggest word of mouth hits in a long time, but the Blu-ray must have gone into production before the film was released, because the supplements are lacking. There are three featurettes: “The Conjuring: Face to Face with Terror” (7 min.) which talks to the real people involved about the incident, “A Life in Demonology” (16 min.) which lets Lorraine Warren talk about her adventures, while “Behind the Scenes: Scaring the ‘@$%’ out of You” (8 min.) is the standard EPK style look at the making of the movie. That’s exactly eight minutes dedicated to the making of the film. And though special editions these days are often filled with frilly nonsense, this is a film that deserves a better edition down the line.