The Conjuring ★★★½

Critics and audiences alike seem eager to deplore films that retread material they've seen before. And that's especially easy to do in a sub-genre that imposes limits on the number of permutations possible within its narrative. After all, when using north american haunting folklore as your base - crusty old homes with sordid histories and spirits refusing to leave them - it's easy to spot the patterns and cry, "This again!?"

We've grown up with ghost stories, and our imaginations are already primed to expect ominous sounds and creepy experiences in the darkest depths of the night. We know the story of a new family moving into an old haunted house through and through.

So why, then, is this - the most true-to-form ghost haunting story, one devoid of elaborate set-pieces, innovative new ways to shock audiences or many ideas that we haven't seen before, and one that cribs so heavily from the classics of the genre - easily the best of its breed in at least a decade? Because it actually tells a haunted house story the way it's supposed to be told.

The film is lovingly presented in the style of classic 70s horror films, including a fairly long exposition scroll setting up the movie and titling the film with very little fanfare. Except for the modern technical nuances that make this film visually and audibly crisp, the stylistic presentation of the film moves and acts like a classic horror film. It absolutely helps that the story is set in the same era, circa 1971, which grounds the foundation of the films stylistic tone. It's as if this film has hit the 'reset' button on the genre.

An unexpected cast including Ron Livingston, Patrick Wilson and Lili Taylor does an exceptional job of running the emotional gamut, presenting dynamic characters each feeling incredibly fleshed-out and compellingly intertwined as the plot develops. But it's Vera Farmiga and the film's cast of children that truly capture the essence of the film and the most terrifying qualities of the story. It's through their eyes that we see the true evil living within the walls.

I don't want to dwell on the actual plot points or what happens in the film because, after all, the best ghost story is the one you haven't heard before. I will say that going into this film, you will know what to expect, but knowing what to expect and having those expectations fulfilled are two completely different things. In the modern age of horror films that get mired in the game of shocking, disgusting, or simply surprising audiences all for the sake of doing something new, it becomes refreshing to see a film with restraint - one that actually doesn't try to do something new, but knows what it needs to do, and does it exceptionally well.

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