I don't go see horror movies all that often but when I do... they tend to suck.
This one didn't suck.
Yes, surprisingly The Conjuring does a good enough job at building atmosphere, giving us characters we don't instantly hate and providing the odd scare along the way. Strangely, the film begins as a kinda goofy scary doll movie but soon morphs into a slightly more subtle poltergeist flick until finally reinventing itself as a full-blown exorcism movie. Normally I'd say the film doesn't know what it wants to be but they make it work. I would have just cut the whole doll thing as it's... pretty gosh darn pointless. And far too hilarious to be taken seriously. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play a couple who specialise in the supernatural and are basically ghost busters. The film is set in the 70's and is far more convincing as a period piece than that Evil Dead remake. Parts of it are a call back to The Exorcist, parts of it are basically Paranormal Activity. It's pretty derivative throughout, if I'm honest, but what it steals from other movies, it does rather well. Its greatest strength, apart from having likeable enough characters (a rarity in horror movies these days, trust me), is its focus on mood and slow-burning scares rather than a mindless overabundance of obvious jump scares. There are a few of those, but they're well done and feel earned.
As refreshing as it was to see a horror movie take its time and try to establish a certain unsettling vibe, it was relatively low on genuine scares and a lot of it is stuff you've probably seen before in other movies. Its key premise is original enough but by stacking up the silly moments and the been-there-seen-it scenes, The Conjuring loses a lot of its "oomph". By silly moments, by the way, I don't just mean the creepy Chucky doll. You've got Renesmee sleep-walking and bumping her head on wardrobes repeatedly, people looking for the basement NOT in the basement, slapstick scares, a goofy skeptic cop... and the doll. It's never anything too ridiculous that it'll destroy the whole movie for you but it still adds up and distracts throughout. The ending is sadly anti-climactic, a real shame since it follows a brilliantly tense build-up where literally everything comes together to try and scare the crap out of you. We go from things going bump in the night to full-on demon possession and the film just kinda fizzles out at the end. This is probably due to the fact it was based on a true story (well, 1% of it was, anyway) so they thought it would be more authentic to end it like that but... come on. Who actually believes that any of this actually happened?! I like that the film is somewhat restrained in some levels but it really should have gone all-out at the end instead of ending the way it did. To really make it stand out, the film needed one truly memorable ending.
Overall, The Conjuring is one of the better horror movies of this year but it is let down by an occasionally messy delivery and some very derivative ideas. In the end, you'll enjoy a lot of it but you won't remember it in a month.