EIFF 2013: 'The Conjuring' review

From director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) comes The Conjuring (2013), a 1970s-inflected haunted house movie that throws every trick in the book at it audience - with surprisingly successful results. Wan's latest is chock-full of kitsch class and effective scares that, whilst never attempting to reinvent the wheel, offers up one of those rare things; and exhilarating, entertaining American horror. Our focus is the Perron family, who have invested every last cent into the rural idyll they now call home. Bought at an auction price due to foreclosure and in need of substantial work, the family could never have dreamt of such a steal.

Shortly after moving in, however, the Perrons realise that there might have been a reason the house was so affordable. A series of supernatural encounters intensify in both frequency and harmful malevolence, leaving the terrified family fearing for their very lives. Enter well-dressed demonologist Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), who make their living helping out folk who believe that they're being haunted by forces from beyond the grave. Wan's tricksy latest then goes on to document the husband and wife duo's most spine-tingling case.

An unapologetically old-fashioned horror romp, The Conjuring is perhaps most notable for how it tells its tale in such an intelligent and sophisticated way. Yes, there are nerve-rattling scares and spurious jumps and bumps in the night, but it's the delicate balance of all these recognisable elements that make the film such a delectable cocktail of horror conventions. This creepy amalgamation gives us poltergeists, possessions, demonic children and a cavalcade of familiar, yet invigoratingly-handled cinematic techniques. Whilst this menacing imagery does contribute to a heart attack-threatening degree of anxiety, it's often what Wan doesn't show on-screen that gets most under your skin - just how it should be.

Benefiting from a 'far-out' 70s vibe, The Conjuring's period detail turns this horror mélange into a glorified campfire ghost story, celebrating the golden age of American horror filmmaking whilst also adding a touch of class and eccentricity to an otherwise conventional set-up. Well-practised in the ways of the genre, Wan's command of horror clichés and archetypes allows for the scares and thrills to come at his audience at an almost unrelenting pace, with barely a pause offered in which to catch its shallow breath.

One of the most confident and genuinely unnerving studio-financed horrors to grace the big screen in quite some time (this year, at the very least), The Conjuring is an exhilarating, white-knuckle ride from start to frightening finale. Featuring fine turns from genre hands Wilson, Farmiga, Lil Taylor and Ron Livingston, plus some exceptional period production design, there's far more going on beneath the surface of this particular bone-chiller than mere smoke and mirrors.

The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble


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