From the opening credits, The Conjuring attempts to hearken back to the R-rated horror films of yesteryear. Even the stylized title, with it's ornate, sickly yellow font, conjures (ba-dum-dum!) images of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. The kinship extends to the Mise en scene; The Conjuring simply feels like a film from that era, which is a good thing given the time period in which this one is situated.
It's pretty creepy. James Wan gives us a really subtle first act, and I might have enjoyed it a bit more if the jackasses in the theater weren't whispering and talking throughout many of the early quiet parts. Note to jackasses: As Ed Warren notes in one of his lectures on possession, one of the first signs of demonic infestation is whispering. You jackasses are all infested--with an utter lack of tact. It's a public theater, people, and a horror movie to boot! Many of these films take their affect from the juxtaposition of quiet and loud sound. Stay home and chat about your b.s. when it's out on DVD, but don't ruin a film for those of us that want to watch it in peace.
Thankfully, they all shut up around the midpoint of the film.
Back to the film. Wan engineers a really captivating perspective shot when one of the young daughters peers under her bed, then back up at our presence, hiding in the corner of the room. I also enjoyed the angle that precedes that little bit of style as Wan really captures the epitome of innocence: a sleeping child. Things actually move really rapidly from that scene forward, as the presence has revealed itself fully and things are now racing toward that pulse-pounding third act.
I would have enjoyed a bit more in the way of showing just how the Perrons made the decision to attend one of the Warrens' lectures. I'm always interested in those moments in which seemingly skeptical characters take a leap of faith, and here it's completely brushed under the rug.
I would have also enjoyed a bit more character development on the Warrens. Wilson and Farmiga are good (I liked her turn a tad more; that fall she takes is heartbreaking), and I really liked Ron Livingston's portrayal of Roger Perron. Watching Lili Taylor's Carolyn Perron descend into possession is moving. Overall, this cast did a fine job.
I'd give it a solid 'B' mark, and I think that will improve for me with time and additional viewings. It certainly raised some sincere yelps from the audience, and I've already looked into the backstory of Annabelle the doll (really creepy opening sequence!), so it left a pretty good impression on me.