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The Conjuring (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The Conjuring


Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins, Marion Guyot, Morganna Bridgers and Amy Tipton.

Screenplay by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes.

Directed by James Wan.

Distributed by New Line Cinema. 112 minutes. Rated R.

I must admit, horror films about mad slashers or zombies shambling in search of live flesh or even sexy brooding vampires tend to leave me a bit cold. Respect the craft, enjoy the stories (sometimes) but it rarely really scares me.

However, a well-done ghost story will send chills up and down my spine every single time. I'll even find a poorly done ghost film scarier than most of what passes as horror.

Well, The Conjuring is not poorly done, in fact it is surprisingly taut after a slightly overdone opening sequence about a demon doll. Once the movie slips into its main storyline, it is a smart and efficient scare machine. In fact, The Conjuring is the only film that I can remember that actually made me yell out involuntarily due to a shocking moment. Was the shot a bit of a tease? Perhaps. But it worked, and I'm not someone who can be caught so off guard that I scream in a theater.

That was the only time I showed my fear, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there. I watched the entirety of The Conjuring in a sustained sense of dread. And if the climax was a bit overdone, it was not as much so as most ghost stories.

The Conjuring is probably the best cinematic ghost story since The Sixth Sense. Yes, it's that good.

In fact, the only other film even in the same ballpark is Insidious, from two years ago, which was also directed by this film's helmer James Wan and co-starred this film's Patrick Wilson. And Wan and Wilson will be back with Insidious: Chapter 2 in little over a month.

The Conjuring is "based on a true story," though of course in this type of film you must take that statement with an industrial strength grain of salt.

However, The Conjuring is based on a case investigated by the well-known (at least in paranormal circles) husband and wife ghost-busting team Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Wilson and Vera Farmiga). He was a former police officer who became a renowned demonologist. She was a clairvoyant and medium. From 1952 until Ed's death in 2006, they worked together on many famous haunting cases, including the one that became the basis of the book and movie The Amityville Horror. To this day, Lorraine still periodically works cases, even though she is well into her 80s.

Lorraine Warren recently claimed that the early 1970s haunting of a family named the Perrons was the evilest force they ever ran across. It is that haunting that is the basis for The Conjuring. (And, yes, you do have to wonder if that statement was genuine or just to help sell the movie.)

Whether it is true or not, one thing is undeniable: this is one spooky story.

The Perrons are Roger and Carolyn (played by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston), a couple in their late 30s with five daughters between ages five and sixteen. He's a long-distance trucker (though, honestly, he only seems to have one short job during the period the movie runs), she's a stay-at-home mom. The girls are young and cute and adventurous. They have found their dream house in an old lake cottage in the boonies.

However, early on after they move in, the family comes across a boarded-up basement full of old furniture. Soon mysterious sounds start at night and actions and the youngest girl has made an imaginary friend. Quickly the disturbances become more and more concerning. Carolyn is developing rashes all over her body. The girls are waking up screaming. And who is that mysterious little boy who seems to appear in the music box mirror?

Carolyn Perron goes to see a seminar by the Warrens and her desperation convinces them to investigate the home. They quickly learn the secrets of the tragic past of the house, but still must find a way to get the spirits to leave the family alone.

All of this is done with taut suspense rather than shiny CGI. The film knows what so many great filmmakers do: sometimes the monster that you don't see is scarier than the monster you do see.

The Conjuring continues in its lean and tight manner, only slightly tripping into overkill in the climactic battle with the main spirit of the home.

Director Wan, whose earliest films were much more pedestrian (such as the first Saw and the vigilante drama Death Sentence) seems to have found inspiration as a filmmaker in a specialty as our foremost ghost story director.

Even when you know The Conjuring is just pushing your buttons, it'll still creep you the hell out. How many films can you really say that about anymore?

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: July 19, 2013.

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