In 2004 director James Wan helped launch an entire subgenre of horror with Saw. Dubbed “torture porn” — a derisive label used by cultural critics that confused catharsis with titillation — it became the gory norm for years, with the Saw franchise creaking out sequel after sequel. Starting with 2010’s Insidious, however, Wan himself has been exploring different, more nuanced ground: bringing the classic ghost story back in terrifying fashion.

His latest effort is The Conjuring, based on a case from Ed and Lorraine Warren — the real-life ghost hunters behind The Amityville Horror investigation. While the “true story” premise adds an additional layer of allure, the film goes far beyond that sort of one-note trickery, providing Wan the opportunity to take the techniques he’s learned in his previous outings and turn them up to 11. It’s a movie that doesn’t quite leap into the pantheon of genre classics it’s riffing on, but it proves James Wan is able to do one thing better than almost any filmmaker working today: scare the hell out of you.