(US - 2013)
Directed by James Wan. Written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Joey King, Hayley McFarland, McKenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins. (R, 112 mins)
James Wan may have directed 2004's SAW, one of the key horror films that kicked off the much-maligned "torture porn" subgenre, but he's used it as a means to an end. Upon turning that franchise over to others, Wan has revealed himself to be an old-schooler when it comes to genre fare. He hasn't always been successful--2007's DEATH SENTENCE was a good idea, but ended up a tired and uninspired DEATH WISH throwback that had one memorable chase sequence and little else, and the same year's DEAD SILENCE was a seemingly archaic "evil ventriloquist dummy" movie that flopped because it seemed too tame and passé for SAW fans but might be worth another look in retrospect. Wan took some steps in the right direction with 2011's sleeper hit INSIDIOUS, which was a great fright flick for 2/3 of its running time before collapsing in the home stretch. With THE CONJURING, Wan finally gets it right with a haunted house/possession film that's shockingly light on the gore but earns its R rating the old-fashioned way: by masterful audience manipulation and sheer, nerve-wracking tension relentlessly ratcheted up to a point where you'll find yourself holding your breath on several occasions. Wan doesn't break new ground here, but he's studied the classics and he knows what works and exploits it to its full potential. Wan knows that the real horror lies in the unseen and the suggested. He lets that build over the course of 80 or so minutes until it finally explodes in a horrific onslaught that's almost a relief because we're no longer dealing with the anticipation of shadows, slowly creaking doors, faint whispers, pounding on walls, a chair rocking itself, a bouncing ball, or the piercing, almost mocking glare of a creepy doll.
THE HAUNTING (1963) or THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), but still the source of some powerful jolts that you don't see much of anymore, proof that a modern horror movie doesn't always have to be all up in your business and rubbing your face in it to show how "intense" and "real" it is.