In the case of The Conjuring I have inkling that, regardless of expectations, you will jump. You will also be creeped out or, at the very least, you will squirm a little.
The film defies recent conventions in horror movies. Most notable are the false endings. Boo! The ghost/monster/demon isn’t really gone! BOOOO! Or even worse the “it goes on and on” ending demonstrating there will be a sequel if the film rakes in enough cash. Not that sequels are a bad thing but END the first movie and then do a sequel! Do not leave the audience hanging. And there will certainly be a The Conjuring II but hopefully it will be in a film that stands on its own.
The Conjuring also doesn’t just aim to make you jump (I expect most people will be startled at least four or five times). The film aims for that elusive creepy, hair stand up on the back of the neck sort of scare. Most films cannot seem to muster these. The Conjuring manages this over and over. It isn’t that hard to make people jump—a creature leaps out of the darkness, a cat jumps up on the windowsill etc. Creeping people out takes more than that. There has to be a subtle evocation of commonly held fear, something that makes everyone go “ick” and then it has to be introduced in just the right way. It isn’t easy.
The cast is also great. Lili Taylor plays mom to Ron Livingston’s dad. They are the parents of five girls. He is a truck driver whose career seems to have led them to merely scraping by, naturally being unable to leave their newly acquired home.
Another refreshing thing about this movie is that the parents don’t bicker too much. One doesn’t see obviously supernatural events and then deny them. They see something funky is going on and they go find a demonology husband and wife team played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. Wilson, you will recognize as the dad from Insidious. Farmiga will ring a bell from her memorable performance in Up in the Air and the Psycho-inspired TV series, Bates Motel. Both are actors I am always happy to see in a film or TV show.
All these actors—and especially the five children—add to the creepy ambiance. Having the five girls of different ages is also a clever, subtle, small detail that helps with the horror. You have five scared kids, not just one and they are of different ages adding a little something different. One of the first scenes where two of the girls first meet their evil housemates may be the scariest in the film and the reason is largely the “scared” acting of young actress Joey King.
The film is also paced well. There is a build-up of scary but it never drags. This is often a horror movie problem, too much build up. It never happens here. All around The Conjuring delivers in every way a horror film can.