The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton
(out of 4)
Oh no, Darth Maul’s not behind me again, is he?
James Wan has had quite a career, moving from the franchise-creating Saw to the underrated Dead Silence to the overrated-but-still-decent Insidious. The Conjuring is a spook story that showcases the man’s talent (along with DPs John Leonetti and David Brewer) for giving a little bit of style to the haunted house setting and effectively delivering some scares. Oh, sure, it’s derivative as all get-out – try not to think about The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Amityville Horror, The Possession, The Innkeepers, The Sixth Sense, Paranormal Activity, and Insidious while watching it (I dare you), but what he puts up on the screen is skillfully done. I suppose I should be glad that in 2013 you can still make a haunted house/demonic possession movie and have it be entertaining.
The Conjuring is based on supposedly true events surrounding “The Harrisville Haunting” of the Perron family and the help they received from paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in the year 1971. The Perrons are a family of seven made up of mom Carolyn (Lili Taylor), dad Roger (Ron Livingston – yes, from Office Space, and I almost didn’t recognize him!), and five daughters (Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver). On move-in day, the dog refuses to enter the house; in the morning, the dog is dead. Folks, this is a bad omen, trust me. Then, bizarre things happen, like all clocks stopping at 3:07am, Cindy (Mackenzie Foy) banging her head against a bedroom armoire in her sleep, ghostly banging on walls, birds killing themselves by flying into the house, and family photos being knocked off the wall. Oh, and little April (Kyla Deaver) has a new imaginary friend that can sometimes manifest itself (he likes to play the hide-n-clap game with a scared-shitless Carolyn). Soon, something unseen is tugging at Christine’s legs and telling her that it wants the Perron family dead. This house is a bummer, man.
“Hey, little help over here. The kid’s not gonna sacrifice himself, ya know.”
Things get bad enough that the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson – he also starred in Insidious) are called in, where they discover that a decent number of people have died on the property in violent and tragic ways, preceded by a terrible sacrifice and suicide that I’ll leave up to the movie to tell. The rest of The Conjuring involves your typical evidence gathering (thermometers, cameras, bells-on-doors, motion-picture cameras) which is required to prove to the Catholic church that some unholy stuff is going on, and then they can send over an exorcist. This just serves to piss the entity off, and we get the expected showdown where the fate of somebody’s soul is at stake. As I said, you’ve seen The Conjuring in countless movies before, but Wan has a knack for this sort of thing. It’s all here: jump-scares, eerie music boxes, suicides, spooky basements, moving doors, exorcisms, people being dragged around by unseen forces, children in peril, and a very creepy doll called Annabelle. It’s interesting that the film was rated R not for gore, sex, or language, but simply because it is too terrifying. I didn’t find it that scary, myself, but it’s definitely intense and creepy in spots. It’s well-acted and has some nice fluid camerawork, with sweeping shots and one nice touch where the camera turns upside down as a terrified Christine (Joey King) looks under her bed, and then rights itself as she gets up. I also find it interesting that the film chooses Catholicism as the “correct” religion and sticks with it (kinda how The Possession runs with Judaism).
For this kind of thing, I find The Conjuring to be better than Insidious and worth the look for those who need their fill of theme-park-ride scares and “boo”-moments. It also does have a kind of nostalgia hanging on it, as Walter Chaw pointed out, harkening back to the old-fashioned William Castle spook-shows. There’s also the historical aspects of the picture to lend it interest – the “based-on-true-events” stuff that lovers of ghost-hunting should eat up. Have fun, kids!
– Bill Gordon
Buy: The Conjuring (DVD + UltraViolet)
Buy: The Conjuring (Blu-Ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack)
You have been damned… to an eternity of TPS reports!
- Can anybody explain the title to me? Who, or what, is doing the “conjuring” here?
- The Annabelle doll depicted in the film was really a Raggedy Ann Doll. More about that here.
- If you want to know more about the Perron family, check out History vs Hollywood.
- Here’s our brief writeup on the Warrens, whose ghost-busting adventures have inspired many books/movies (Amityville, the Demon-Murder case, Smurl haunting, Snedeker haunting, and so on). In the 50s, the Warrens founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. Ed died in 2006; Lorraine still works on investigations and still runs the Occult Museum, located in her Connecticut home.
- For even more about Ed Warren and Lorraine Warren, try reading The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren or Conversations With Ed and Lorraine Warren
- Regarding the Warren’s collection of cursed artifacts – did anybody flash back to Friday the 13th: The Series?
- There’s talk about “who Patrick Wilson looks like.” To me, he looks like Bob Odenkirk mixed with Christian Slater.
- James Wan’s next film is Fast and Furious 7. Should be interesting to see how he transitions from horror to action.