Director:  James Wan

Starring:  Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor

Studio:  New Line Cinema

Length:  1 Hr 52 Min

Rated:  14A

If thee’s one thing I’ve learned from years of watching horror movies and reading Stephen King novels, it’s that if the family dog doesn’t want to enter the rickety old country house in the woods you, it’s probably a bad sign.  A very, VERY bad sign.  If people in horror movies listened to their pets more, well, there probably wouldn’t be horror movies.  But even though The Conjuring recycles some well-worn horror clichés, its easily one of the best scarefests to come out of Hollywood in years, owing it’s success to genuine thrills and tension instead of a hundred million dollars worth of CGI or absurd amounts of shock value violence.  This movie is all about old school fear.  And it’s old school good.

Based on allegedly true events, The Conjuring tells the tale of real life paranormal investigators Loraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren as they are confronted by the most terrifying case of their careers, one they (and the family involved) kept secret for over forty years.  In 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters moved into a farmhouse in the woods of Harrisville, Rhode Island.  Unfortunately for the new owners, the house (and surrounding land) had seen over a century of cursed bloodshed and suffering, and was already home to a number of restless spirits, including a dark and malevolent demonic presence that scares even the other ghosts and only finds joy in causing unimaginable pain to the living.  An uber-ghost if you will, and one with a severely bad disposition.  It isn’t long until the Perrons become victims of violent hauntings and seek out the Warrens for help.  Lorraine, the psychic half of the investigative couple, is still recovering from an exorcism performed several months previous, prompting her demonologist partner and husband Ed to occasionally question their presence.  But the Warrens are soon left with little choice as the battle against the darkness in Harrisburg becomes personal and the stakes are raised beyond just the Perrons and even the salvation of the house’s previous victims.

The Conjuring isn’t merely the best horror film you’re likely to see this year, but the most efficient.  Produced on a shoestring budget (in Hollywood terms anyway), it relies on solid storytelling and inventive directing to inspire scares and doesn’t depend on a smorgasbord of special effects.  Director James  Wan has left torture porn in the past with the (hopefully) defunct Saw franchise, and having cut his teeth on other low-budget horror efforts like Insidious, he now appears to be tinsel town’s director of choice for telling authentically scary stories.  The Conjuring has it’s fair share of violence but none of it is gratuitous, all of it serving to tell the story, build a tense atmosphere and further the plot.  Wan uses only a fraction of the blood you’d see in a slasher flick, but The Conjuring is easily ten times scarier and far more entertaining.  I openly admit that I jumped at least once myself, and watching others in the theatre scream and jump out of their seats like their pants had just caught fire was worth the price of admission alone.  I’m convinced the woman behind me needed to change her unmentionables when the end credits started rolling and the guy in front of me probably won’t be sleeping without a night-light for at least a month.

There are bound to be some more than a bit disturbed by the “based on true events” portion of the movie’s promotion, but I’d recommend taking that with a healthy dose of salt.  Not to throw water on how effective and good the movie was, or on the Warrens or their careers, but you’d have to be a bit skeptical on why this story collected dust for three decades, the Perron family deciding not to cash in on it while the “survivors” of other such “real life” stories were cashing in on Hollywood’s (and the movie going public’s) fascination with haunted houses and scary stories.  And the Warrens were two of several paranormal investigators who confirmed the haunting of a house in Amityville, Long Island shortly after the supposed events in Harrisburg (there’s even a reference to Amityville Horror at the very end of The Conjuring) and the credibility over that particular story has been unravelling the past few years.  The movie takes some generous liberties with the original story (the Perrons actually lived in the house for ten years, subject to supernatural phenomena the whole time and the Warrens attempts to exorcise or cleanse the house were unsuccessful).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s no such thing as the supernatural or haunted houses, but I’d recommend holding off using The Conjuring (or similar movies) as reason to hang crucifixes in every room of the house and start showering in Holy Water.  That being said, if you’re looking for a legitimate scare ride, The Conjuring is more than worth the ticket.

Shayne Kempton




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