conjuring

Never move into an old house in the middle of nowhere—that’s one of the first rules of horror that we’ve learned from films like The Amityville Horror. Moreover, we’re told these stories are based on actual events, making that warning all the more foreboding.

The Conjuring follows the basic horror movie trope of a family moving to the country for a “fresh start,” sending Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lily Taylor) and their five daughters to a remote farmhouse in Rhode Island for what they expect to be a peaceful life away from the city. Instead, they are greeted by a dark presence that terrorizes them, forcing Carolyn to seek help from renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The Warrens are reluctant to take the case at first—mainly due to Ed’s fear that their past experiences have taken a toll on his psychic wife Lorraine—but Lorraine convinces her husband that the Perron family needs their help. The Warrens are then dragged into perhaps their most intense and risky case yet as they battle to save the Perron family and rid the land of the evil that inhabits it.

As The Conjuring is also based on a true story, there’s an automatic creep-factor to the plot, making the film slightly more frightening than if the story were completely fictionalized. Obviously, we take the “true story” with a grain of salt, as the script is based upon the Warrens’ own files with undoubtedly a Hollywood twist, but to those who believe in the supernatural, the film will undoubtedly elicit a strong reaction. It should also be noted that the Warrens would go on to investigate the happenings in Amityville—but this movie is somewhat of a “prequel” to their story that also brings them as much to the forefront as the Perron family. The juxtaposition of the Perrons protecting their five daughters with the Warrens also putting their family at risk—the main dark entity, a witch named Bathsheba who cursed the land and anyone who dares disturb it after sacrificing her own child to Satan, is so malevolent and powerful that it begins to terrorize the Warrens’ daughter as well—is perhaps what helps push the story beyond a cliché.

Director James Wan brings the story to life well, easily immersing the viewer in the eerie feel of his world of horror. As the story takes place in the 70s, it should be noted that he and his crew do a decent job at setting the period—while the costuming is subtle, it does have a dated look, and the soundtrack also fits nicely. The scares in the film, meanwhile, are driven mostly by sound cues—specifically, composer Joseph Bishara (who also doubles as Bathsheba) uses low bass tones and suspenseful music to keep the audience on edge, much like his work in Wan’s film Insidious. Until the climax, the scares are rarely visual, making Bishara’s job extremely important.

The acting is mostly carried by Taylor and Farmiga, as the male leads as well as the children seem to fall flat. As a matter of fact, all six of the children involved in the story barely even have personalities, while Livingston, as Roger Perron, is passive to the point of being insignificant to the plot, if only the crew wasn’t forced to stick to the “true story.” Meanwhile, Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of Ed Warren is fairly one-dimensional, mostly only showing emotion when it comes to protecting Lorraine—but yet giving in to her urge to help the Perron family fairly easily. Farmiga, meanwhile, plays a very caring and concerned Lorraine—and while her character also is mostly one-dimensional, she is integral to the plot and definitely has a few intense and important scenes. It’s Taylor, however, who stands out the most—her character starts out as a simple, loving housewife who wants nothing more than to protect her family, but soon, she is possessed by the evil dark entity, transforming her briefly into a deranged person out to murder her children. It takes some pretty versatile acting skills to pull off the transformation, which she does nicely.

Overall, The Conjuring can’t be held accountable for the story, since it is already set in stone—but it doesn’t quite come off nearly as scary as one would hope for as an R-rated horror movie. While the movie is visually appealing and the effects aren’t too over-the-top or ridiculous, there are still moments that are simply laughable instead of frightening (in particular, a scene where the unseen ghost drags one of the daughters around the room by the hair probably will illicit more giggles than gasps). Moreover, while the story flows fairly well, there are moments when certain scenes feel rushed simply because there is so much to portray.

For hardcore horror fans, the movie is nothing new or different but may be worth checking out—but for those who are fishing for a scare, you may not find it here, unless you’re easily creeped-out. Overall, The Conjuring gets 3 out of 5 stars for being true to the time period and story, even though the overall film could have been tighter (and probably a bit more frightening).

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