Just like studio sitcoms, horror films that make the audience jump seem terribly passé these days. There is something not very sophisticated about the whole thing – like getting your kicks from poking someone in the sides, or unexpectedly screaming in their ear. This is a shame because there is nothing wrong with a film that shocks us by jumping out at us from the dark, providing it does it well.
The Conjuring, by Saw director James Wan, is a nuts-and-bolts creeper that is doing very well at the box office at the moment. Released in the horror graveyard of summer – a full three months before Halloween – the $20m horror flick has already taken $169m at the box office worldwide. For a while, it was doing better than Johnny Depp’s big-budget bore-fest The Lone Ranger.
The Conjuring’s unexpected success has little to do with breaking new ground or denying itself the pleasures of scaring the audience using the most basic methods of cinema — shrills, shocks, and shrieks! The story is standard supernatural/haunted house fodder, based on the true story of supernatural detectives or ‘ghost hunters’ Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farminga.
The fact that the plot is somewhat of a horror-movie cliche is at times referred to knowingly in the script. It’s reminiscent, in this sense, of last year’s ironic horror triumph The Cabin In The Woods. But the way the material is handled has caused horror fans to proclaim The Conjuring as a triumph of chilling film-making. While the audience may walk into The Conjuring expecting the types of scare that it has to offer, we’re still genuinely startled when they arrive, often in masterfully disguised moments. Its ability to make us jump is something that is rarely done well these days.
After a string of horror films under his name, Wan is now firmly a genre director who tinkers with the conventions of his realm – and occasionally makes fun of them – rather than inverting them completely. Playfulness aside, The Conjuring is exactly the kind of movie that horror fans are relishing as a solid staple of the genre at the precise moment when there are so few good ones about. So for a traditional horror film to creep up on the mainstream in such a way, we can only be delighted, if not really too shocked.