Saw's James Wan is back to give you chills with The Conjuring

Mihir Fadnavis

Jul 29, 2013 13:57:12 IST

The '70s had George Romero. The 80’s had John Carpenter. The 90’s had Wes Craven and David Cronenberg. The mantle has been passed – the new crown prince of Hollywood horror is the Malay-Aussie James Wan, whose creativity with the camera has been matched only by his staggering box office success. His latest film is The Conjuring, releasing this week in India. The Conjuring has no blood, no gore, no violence, no sex, no foul language. But it was rated R in the United States, for just one reason – it was too scary. But how could one make a decent horror film without any of those elements in this day and age? The answer lies in the mind of its maker – the modern horror auteur James Wan.

Wan hit the scene ten years ago with Saw, a gory low budget horror thriller that reflected genius in its plot twist. The film was set almost entirely in a bathroom where two men, chained to a pipe, were toyed with by a mysterious man on an audio tape. The final reveal of the villain became iconic, as did the creepy puppet Billy. Saw spawned six subpar sequels (written and directed by other people and milked by the studio), a move that somewhat diminished Wan’s hard-earned street cred.  It was probably why Wan’s next film Dead Silence, written by his Saw scribe Leigh Whannell, crashed both critically and commercially. Dead Silence was a weird and atmospheric film, but the serial killer from Saw, Jigsaw, had become a household name and torture porn had become the go-to horror genre.  Wan had created a monster of a genre and to stay relevant, one of them had to destroy the other.

 Saws James Wan is back to give you chills with The Conjuring

Screengrab from The Conjuring. Image courtesy Facebook.

Five years and another critical bomb later, Wan reemerged with Insidious, a hair-raising haunted house horror film that eschewed the torture porn style of Saw and relied on old fashioned jump scares. The film was made for a paltry $1 million and ended up grossing 100 times that number. It was a critical darling and ended the reign of both Saw and Paranormal Activity. Although familiar plot wise, Insidious was an engrossing watch thanks to Wan’s artistry with the camera and his impeccable flair for timing. Before getting to work on the sequel, Wan readied The Conjuring, a 70’s set possession story based on real incidents. The results are terrifying to say the least.

Starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a paranormal investigators, the film abjures nearly every single horror movie cliché and offers a brand new set of scares to ensure you stay awake through the night. Whether Wilson and Farmiga’s characters and the family that they investigate are really ‘real life’ remains moot, but it doesn’t matter because this is a blitzkrieg of a horror movie. Like the 2006 Spanish movie El Orfanato (The Orphanage), The Conjuring employs a subtle approach to build up the atmosphere and the scares and this enables Wan to cram in dozens of unexpected jolts. The difference, however, is that the jolts are tastefully, artfully done, unlike the five thousand decibel cheap thrills that most horror films utilise. Wan reuses some of the goodies from Dead Silence, like the terrifying old woman and creepy dolls, but cleverly ties them up as references, hinting at the possibility of both films and even Insidious being set in the same universe.

The tension in the first two acts is almost unbearable and Wan rewards the viewer with a typhoon of a third act as a neat little bow tie. The third act is a crazy ride, but the reason why it works is that there isn’t an assault of overblown special effects but a controlled, gritty setting in a tiny space. So many exorcism films have come and tanked in the past decade because they all seem clichéd since we’d already seen The Exorcist so many years ago. The Conjuring, however, maintains ingenuity thanks to how Wan stages his spooky scenes. With The Conjuring, Wan has finally established himself as the contemporary horror maestro. He doesn’t need blood, gore and language to frighten you. He simply puts a spooky person on a chair and covers their head with a sheet and films them. He doesn’t need a bathroom mirror false scare tactic to startle you; a music box with a tiny reflective surface that shows something appearing behind you when the music stops is enough. Good luck keeping your eyes open when it does.

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Updated Date: Jul 29, 2013 13:57:14 IST