|Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring|
“Based on true events."
The Conjuring is a new horror movie from director James Wan (Saw) that takes inspiration from a case handled by famous paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose claims of witnessed supernatural phenomena have inspired other horror films like The Amityville Horror. In this film, they are played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson who both make a fun attempt in making such a profession seem credible.
Let me stop for a minute and say that this movie’s only real annoying flaw is one that comes attached to many supernatural horror films: The implication that this B.S. really happened. Trust me, without that condescending suggestion, this movie would be just as terrifying.
The film is set in 1971 in a rural section of Rhode Island where strangely no character has a New England accent. When the title drifts into the frame and dominates the screen with sharp serifs, there is a definite sense of homage to many great horror films of the seventies. When we see the haircuts, wardrobe, and imagery often captured with a slow zoom lens, we feel a good sense of the period.
The atmosphere Wan creates here reminds us that the scariest American films were made around this time. There were still no cell phones, no internet and a lot of repressed religious fear in the hearts of an adult generation that was trying to maintain a sense of liberation. Throw that all into a secluded setting and you have a lot of room for terror.
As we learn about the Warrens and the disturbing things they regularly encounter, we are also introduced to the Perron family, moving into a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere. Roger and Carolyn are played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor. The two have several daughters whose giddy joy and playfulness possibly plays a role in awakening the evil spirit that looms in the home.
As the situations of incredibly nerve-racking suspense unfold, the film keeps us up to date with the Warrens and their work elsewhere but does not allow the two groups to cross paths until nearly an hour in to the film. This is one of many elements that seem similar to The Exorcist, but it gives this movie an engaging sense of pace. We’re forced to watch this tortured family but are reassured when we see the Warrens who will understand what they are experiencing.
The entire cast does a wonderful job with this hokey materiel. The sound and its use of very deep rumbling bass, is quite effective. The gore factor is rather minimal. So are digital effects of the obvious variety. There are a few cheap instances of startle tactics but they are thankfully outdone by the segments of growing nightmarish dread where all the fear is in knowing that something is around the corner. Also, characters make the effort to turn the lights on when they hear something creepy in this movie, which makes them sympathetic.
There is only one big, “Oh come on!” moment for me, which is when the girls are all shown asleep into their beds following a night when one of them screamed bloody murder after seeing a demon! Like that kid would go back to bed in there anytime soon!
This is very much a conventional horror movie that borrows from others, but like Pacific Rim is to other giant robot movies, it does a way better job in entertaining you. To call The Conjuring an innovative horror film would be a big lie, but it sure conjures up a lot of intense scares. If you don’t see it in theaters, keep it in mind for a dark night at home this October!