‘The Conjuring’ conjures plenty of spooky scares

Vera Farmiga stars in 'The Conjuring' — Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Vera Farmiga stars in ‘The Conjuring’ — Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

James Wan’s The Conjuring is the best horror movie of the year. There’s truly no competition for this exquisitely produced and refreshingly acted drama starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor. There’s a sense when watching the movie that we have left the horror genre (with its many conventions and inevitable mistakes) and entered a new realm. Wan’s direction and the script by Chad and Carey Hayes never dumbs down the proceedings. Instead, The Conjuring seems to be influenced by the great horror films of Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill) and 1970s-1980s cinema (William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, in particular). The movie delivers on all available fronts.

Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren, while Wilson plays her husband Ed Warren. This real-life couple (Ed is now deceased) are best classified as demonologists, two people with an innate calling to rid the world of evil “spirits.” Lorraine seems to have a sixth sense about picking up spirit energy, while Ed is knowledgable on the Catholic Church’s exorcism practices. Together they are dedicated ghostbusters who try to bring some semblance of peace to the tortured lives of families dealing with things that go bump in the night.

The main case in The Conjuring is the haunted goings-on of a picturesque Rhode Island home (the movie is based on a true story). Livingston and Taylor are Roger and Carolyn Perron. They have recently moved into this country house with their daughters, and almost immediately the ghostly difficulties begin. When it becomes too much to bear, and after convincing themselves they are dealing with a supernatural force, they hire the expertise of Lorraine and Ed.

The investigations into the house are some of the most white-knuckle scenes of any recent horror flick. There are some genuinely solid scares in the movie, and that must be credited to Wan, who helped create Saw and Insidious. The thrills are never cheap. They are cloaked in mystery and always based on the history that emanates throughout this haunted house.

To classify the movie in one particular sub-genre is tough, and that’s one of its charms. Yes, it’s a haunted house tale, but there’s also possession and ghosts and paranormal investigation. It’s best to think of The Conjuring as a superb film that will entice audience members with its scares and clever storytelling. Period.

The acting is believable and always spot-on, especially from Farmiga and Taylor. It seems that the movie gives more depth to the female characters; by The Conjuring’s end, we have come to know the painful anguish that both Lorraine and Carolyn have endured. It’s not that Ed and Roger stand by watching their wives fight off these spirits, but the women in the house are terribly more interesting and given more of an arc in the story.

Wan has turned into an important force in the world of horror. He pumps out movies rather quickly, but The Conjuring easily stands as his best. This is the scare flick audiences have been expecting for some time.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Conjuring

  • 2013

  • Directed by James Wan

  • Written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes

  • Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lily Taylor

  • Running time: 112 minutes

  • Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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