There are surely few films that contain as many horror references as James Wan's The Conjuring. Loosely based on true events this is a traditional tale of a family in their new home who fall victim to malevolent spirits or demons intent on driving them from the house. The difference however between this film and the many others that have relied on generic tropes as the basis for their story is that The Conjuring is an extremely well executed production that relies on good old fashioned film making rather than the routine jump cuts and scares that populate much of the horror catalogue.
The story focuses on The Perron Family which consists of father Roger (Ron Livingston), mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters. Very soon after moving into their new home, an isolated farmhouse, they begin to experience strange and unexplained occurrences from mysteriously appearing bruises to random banging, and all the clocks in the house routinely stop at 3.07am. As the family become more and more afraid they seek help from Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), renowned paranormal investigators and demonologists. Always initial sceptical The Warren's visit the house and are immediately convinced of demonic interference and begin their investigation. As they progress it becomes increasingly clear they are facing forces more terrifying and malicious than they have ever encountered before and they must fight to save the both The Perron family and their own.
As stated there are many elements that could be considered “borrowed” from other sources but they are respectfully and expertly combined by Wan's obvious love of the horror genre. You will have seen much of what transpires here before but the film never slips into parody or over indulgent pantomime as more and more is revealed about the house and its dark history. The key element of The Conjuring though is its basis in fact, or at least a version of. With The Warrens being real people (Lorraine was even a consultant on the film) there is a great deal of documentation and accounts to draw upon and while some dramatic licensing has obviously been taken the reality of the characters and story adds a level of credibility and interest in the film.
Another strength is in the performances. There are many occasion when, in lesser films, characters can become too stereotypical but Wan has assembled a cast who maintain the necessary level of sincerity and seriousness that makes you believe they are really experiencing what you see on screen.
Whether you find The Conjuring actually scary could well depend on your exposure to horror films as a whole. It has been said that these type of films are made for general cinema audiences as opposed to a more specialised one and that has led to some somewhat sniffy criticisms but there is plenty here for all types of fan and anything that draws more people to the genre must be a good thing. In the end this is a hugely enjoyable film that will undoubtedly spawn a franchise of stories based on The Warren's investigations. As long as Wan, or whoever is at the helm, treats the subject matter with the same reverence and shear enthusiasm as demonstrated here then each film should be equally successful. The Conjuring is probably the best of recent horror releases and bodes well for the future of the genre.