The setup for this movie is pretty straight forward a young family has moved into an old home with a dark history and must turn to a pair of paranormal investigators to rid their home of the evil entities that dwell within. And like most horror films, it is based off of real events. In this case it follows one of the more notorious cases investigated by real life duo Ed and Lorraine Warren whom take it upon themselves to help the family in need.
Now I don't know a whole hell of a lot about the Warrens beyond their connection to the infamous Amityville Horror events/book/movie so I can't speak to how accurate this movie is to the Warrens, their practices, or the real "Perron" family they supposedly helped. What I can attest to is that this is one hell of an effective, spooky and genuinely creepy ghost movie. I love a good ghost movie that takes it's time to build the scares instead of shoving them down your throat. In the The Conjuring veteran horror director James Wan has brought out perhaps his most mature work to date. He takes his time to build the story. Little teases here and there, a bump in the night, the Perron family discovering a long boarded up cellar, an odd smell that travels from room to room, a child sleepwalking - every skillful tool in the book is used to good measure in this movie.
What helps ground the movie even more is the lack of technology. Since the events of the story happened in the 1970's the filmmakers relied heavily on practical effects rather than an over abundant usage of CGI tricks. It helps that the movie clearly has full commitment from it's very talented cast. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are perfect as the respective Mr. and Mrs. Warren and a shout out has to be given to Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as heads of the Perron family. Together they turn material that in lesser hands would have been a joke into some genuine fright inducing terrors. As a jaded horror movie fan I'm usually about 2-3 steps ahead of most horror movies, so I was thrilled when this one kept me guessing what was going to happen next. The film is a slow burn, it takes it time to get going but that isn't to say it's a total bore either. There is the right amount of setup and payoff to keep you glued to your seat in anticipation one moment and flying out of it the next. This is a movie for people with an attention span, plan and simple. If you're one of those people that can't stay off your phone while the movie's on, you're better to keep away from this one.
While I sing the praises of the cast and the director - I can not go without tipping my hat to cinematographer John R. Leonetti. His fantastic usage of light and dark and the shadow spaces in between is fantastic. Every shot, even the bright daylight scenes have enough of that eery negative space to keep a constant sense of dread throughout. And then unlike some other recent horror efforts like the remake of Fright Night - this movie isn't so dark you can't see anything. Very wisely the filmmakers of The Conjuring understood that if you can't see the movie you can't be scared! So the use of burning out flashlights, broken light bulbs, and lit matches as the only light source are wisely used and well executed.
If I have a slight gripe with this movie is in its pacing. It takes an awful long time to get to where it's going. That isn't to say that is a bad thing, but when the main climax hits, it's almost as if there was too much gas left in the tank for 15 minutes so the filmmakers had to push the pedal to the floor. If they'd spread this chunk out just a bit longer I would dare say we would be seeing a worthy rival to The Exorcist. This movie gets so close to that mark, it really does, but it doesn't quite make it. But then again, when you're saying a horror movie from the 20teens is almost in the same league as an iconic horror film like The Exorcist - that is no small amount of praise! If you love your horror movies to slowly build, be good and spooky, with ample jumps and not a lot of needles gore - you should be more than happy with this one. Given its performance at the boxoffice the last 2 weeks, I would wager a bet I am not alone in this assessment. It's a rare treat to get a horror movie that is actually well acted, scripted and directed and isn't a mess of crap. If you can't make it to a theater for this one, when you get this one home be sure to turn out all the lights, and if you happen to have a clunky old furnace or other rattly appliance around - make sure that's on too!
In the End, 8/10 a genuinely creepy good time for a horror movie audience with an attention span.