With his sixth film, director James Wan has built a time machine. Going far beyond merely setting his eerie ghost story in the 1970s, he’s taken that setting as an opportunity to create a film that feels like it’s from the 1970s. With its paranoid zooms and mahogany colour palette, The Conjuring is a loving ode to seventies horror, replete with plaid shirts, floor-length nighties and shaggy hair. It’s also really, really scary.
Based on a real-life case investigated by paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren, the story follows two families: the Perrons, whose farmhouse has a few unwanted visitors, and the Warrens (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who attempt to get to the bottom of escalating spooky goings-on.
The opening scene alone is enough to fray nerves to snapping point. Involving a creepy doll called Annabel, it stretches tension out like a rubber band. That’s the film’s main strength—Wan takes recognisable horror tropes and twists them in on themselves. With Insidious, he proved he was capable of orchestrating a good scare. The Conjuring offers that and more; there’s an inescapable sense of dread permeating every frame. Not to get too serious about what is essentially a good old-fashioned boo flick, but this is Wan’s most accomplished film to date—and one that’s sure to cause more than a few sleepless nights.