The Conjuring review (Blu-ray)

Real estate can be a bitch. You buy what you think is your dream home, for a fantastic price, and the bloody thing turns out to have an evil entity in the basement. Isn't that always the way?

Allegedly based on a real incident that happened in 1971, The Conjuring sees paranormal investigators Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren work to help the Perron family terrorised by a dark presence in their newly-acquired, isolated farmhouse on Rhode Island. The Perrons – dad Roger (Livingston), mum Carol (Taylor) and daughters Andrea, Nancy, Christine, Cindy and April – move to the country for the quiet life, but things slowly start to go wrong: their dog refuses to go inside; the house is always cold; all the clocks keep stopping at 3.07am.

Things gradually escalate to one of the daughters sleepwalking, doors slamming for no explicable reason, and strange bruises appearing on Carol's body. The Perrons decide enough is enough and they need to call in professional help. Who you gonna call? The Warrens, a husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators famed for finding rational explanations for what appear to be ghostly goings on.

Aussie director Wan has a pretty good pedigree when it comes to horror, being the cocreator of Saw and the director of Insidious. The Conjuring is a real creepy treat, a slow burn that builds to a rather conventional Hollywood climax. H does use a few standard scare tactics – shadows, creaks and slamming doors – but fortunately they're few and far between; this is more of a gently-building chiller that really gets under your skin. The casting all round is spot-on. Wan favourite Wilson (he was also the lead in Insidious) is perfect here as demonologist Ed, as is Farmiga as his wife and business partner.

Taylor and Livingston are also perfect as the Perrons, conveying genuine unease and horro at the situation they find themselves in. But the best casting goes to the five young actresses playing the perron girls (and one has to feel genuine fear for Roger Perron being the only male in a house of six women). The girls put in wonderful performances, the sort you'd expect from actresses much older and more accomplished, which really helps to ground the film.

The Conjuring feels like on old-fashioned creepfest, a haunted house/possession film in the vein of The Amityville Horror, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist. In fact, it's probably the best possession film I've seen since The Exorcist. It's consistently unsettling and often scary, although a few of thsoe scares are pretty conventional. Nonetheless, The Conjuring is one of the best horror films you'll see this year.

EXTRAS ★★ The featurette The Conjuring: Face-to-Face with Terror; The featurette A Life in Demonology; and The featurette Scaring the Shit Out of You, featuring director James Wan.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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