When one of your favorite films is The Shining, it will take quite a film to creep you out. The latest in a rapidly rising trend of possession films is a wonderful little horror film that combines shock horror and period drama to create quite an entertaining film that hearkens back to late period Hitchcock.
What makes The Conjuring so different from other films is that it does not try to grab the audience through petty scares, but instead seems to be on the perpetual search of providing the audience with some thinking material to go along with the scares, which aren’t actually that common. In fact, this film is more a homage to classic suspense horrors such as Psycho and The Haunting. This is also a quintessentially American horror film – the style is distinctly Hitchcockian, but also has a very gritty independent film feel.
This film isn’t as scary as it could be, and the scenes where it could be scary (the reveal of what Batsheba’s ghost looks like) actually fall flat – what Wan didn’t realize while making this film that horror only exists in our emotions – toying with the audience’s emotions is the key to scaring the hell out of them. He does attempt to do so at many points, and does succeed occasionally, but the film never reaches its full potential in this aspect. The scariest things in life aren’t what we can see – it is what we can’t see. Is there someone else in the room with us? Is a killer lurking in my back garden? Is a ghost staring at me right in the face? If we could actually see these things, they will be stripped of most of their terrifying power. We can forget what we know, but we don’t realize how difficult it is to forget everything we don’t know the existence of. Its an abstract theory, but it is relevant to this film. While The Conjuring is more successful in creating a scary atmosphere of what we can’t see, the second half of the film really falls flat and becomes a messy, run-of-the-mill possession film, which is a shame because this film deserves better.
The Conjuring is not going to be regarded as the greatest horror film in history, but it is far from the worst – in fact, its one of the smartest horrors to ever come out in the 21st century. Good, scary entertainment.