Film Review – The Conjuring
Cold gusts of wind, creaking doors, foul stenches, banging noises in the middle of the night, ominous weather, dark shadows, whispers in the dark. These have all been long-running staples of the haunted house movie. And they are all present and repeatedly used in the new horror film The Conjuring.
Based on true events (and take that statement with a boulder-sized grain of salt), this tale, set in the early ’70s, begins as the loving Perron family moves into their newly purchased farmhouse. The household is led by Carolyn and Roger (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston). They are doing the best for their daughters, who range from young to teenage. But quickly they realize that something in the house is not right. Their first night in the home, the family dog won’t come inside, and things get seriously upsetting once they find what happens to him. Every night, all of the clocks stop at 3:07 am. The girls feel someone or something tugging at their toes in their sleep. Carolyn keeps waking up with strange bruises. Periodically, they come across a smell that reeks of death. Roger discovers a boarded-up entrance to a spooky cobweb-covered basement filled with the belongings of the previous residents.
After a time trying to live through all of these late night goings-on, Carolyn enlists the help of a couple of paranormal experts. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play Ed and Lorraine Warren. They regularly give lectures on their “ghostbusting” activities and have a room in their house dedicated to haunted artifacts that they’ve confiscated over the years (the most ominous of which is a freaky-looking porcelain doll that sports a demonic grin). Lorraine is a psychic of sorts and quickly picks up that the Perrons are being haunted. Aside from not being financially able to, moving out of the house won’t solve anything according to the Warrens, because once a spirit has attached itself to you, you can’t really get rid of it. An exorcism is said to be in order. But first they need evidence. So with some help, the Warrens set up to record all of the hauntings that are occurring.
The Conjuring features some genuine scares. There are quite a few jumpy moments. The youngest daughter can see her invisible “friend” in the mirror of a creepy music box that came from the basement. The adults trying to see this same figure in that mirror makes for some tense moments. Also, that damn doll is just freaky. The horror genre has a long history with creepy dolls, from Chucky to that dang ventriloquist dummy in Magic. So you can add this one to the list.
Conversely, as with a great many supernatural horror stories, there are some straight up goofy/stupid things here. For instance, Taylor’s character seeks out the paranormal experts. Great. But you don’t go to the cops first? Or medical professionals? Even Ellen Burstyn sought out a doctor before she found Father Merrin. And where do all these “rules” come from? The Warrens state that things like certain objects are infused with evil, that demons attach themselves to people, and that there are specific guidelines to exorcisms that everyone takes at face value. Who made all these arbitrary rules? Is Patrick Wilson toting around Tobin’s Spirit Guide to fight Gozer the Gozarian?
Also, that notion of “based on a real story” is, as usual, a bunch of crap. If half the instances of people being thrown around the room, photographic evidence of ghosts, physical objects moving and such could be corroborated scientifically, we all would’ve heard of this family, because they would be internationally famous. Were this all true, it would fundamentally change what we know about science and nature. But since we don’t have tangible proof of apparitions that can drag people around a room and beat them up, the reality of what happened to this family is likely a little less spectacular. The film even goes so far as to show pictures of the real people involved during the end credits. But that’s only going to serve to convince the 12-year-olds in the audience that “this stuff could really happen”!
All that aside, this is an effective and fun spookfest. Inexplicably, The Conjuring is rated R. There’s no sex or nudity. There’s minimal swearing. And while there is some violence, honestly Superman and the Jaegers have caused much more physical harm on movie screens this summer than anything in this film. Mostly it’s just atmosphere and genuine scares that are summoned here. This movie is Poltergeist marinated in an Exorcist sauce and served up as a fine Amityville Horror style show. You have seen this movie before (The Changeling, The Haunting, The Innocents, etc). In fact, recently The Woman In Black told a very similar tale.
But at least this time around director James Wan showed more restraint than he did in Saw, for instance. That movie was all noise and gore with not enough tension building. The Conjuring lets the atmosphere of dread build up much more over time. The first big scare doesn’t come until after about a half an hour into the running time. And the actors do fine work here. It’s nice to see Lili Taylor in something again (I LOVE Dogfight). The kids are all sweet and believable. And while Vera Farmiga is asked to give weight to some potentially ridiculous supernatural material, she sells it quite well with suitable aplomb.
This movie will be a future favorite for a teenagers on sleepovers to hide their faces under a blanket and shriek at the scary bits. It’s good old-fashioned horror movie fun.
Final Grade: B