Every now and then, there comes a film that reaffirms our quelling desire to be at the movies, or to watch as we sit back on the couch with an addictive bag of popcorn. The Conjuring is one of those films. With old-school scares, stellar camerawork and commendable acting, this film — though formulaic — confirms our love of a good horror flick; it also leaves us feeling exceedingly frightened of anything identified with the Salem Witch Trials.
The story, said to be based off of true events, involves the same demonologists that investigated the Amityville Horror case. At its heart, though, it revolves around the Perrons — Roger (Ron Livingston, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”) the patriarch of the family, his wife, Carolyn (Lili Taylor, “Public Enemies”) and their five daughters (including Mackenzie Foy, Joey King, Hayley McFarland, Shanley Caswell and Kyla Deaver) — a family that has just taken strides to make a new start for themselves by purchasing an old farmhouse auctioned off by the bank.
That right there should be enough of a tell-tale sign, as shortly thereafter they begin to experience supernatural occurrences in the old, internally-dilapidated house.
But The Conjuring gets better than just disembodied female ghost whispers, shifting furniture and bangs in the barren basement. There is a demonic presence slowly latching itself to the family and as any horror-guru can tell you without watching, possession seeks the form of the most vulnerable. And after home remedies fail to stop the situation from worsening, the Perrons finally seek the help of professionals, that’s right, it’s ghost busting time.
Enter demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, “Insidious” and Vera Farmiga, “Safe House”), two acclaimed hunters of the paranormal, who have had a widely successful but controversial career together. They soon realize the scope of the Perrons dilemma and quickly move in with a small crew armed with (now archaic) cameras and thermal technology. But are they too late to save yet another family (and audiences to a lesser extent) from eternal damnation?
Saving the audience, at least, is the acting of Vera Farmiga. As usual, she delivers a formidable performance in a genre that seems to fit her best (now showcased weekly on the TV show, “Bates Motel”). She commands the screen with a sense of deserved authority, but also with high vulnerability. Patrick Wilson is no slouch either (having worked with James Wan prior no doubt a benefit); he is believably stern and generous, and the young actresses portraying the Perron daughters thankfully stray from the normally arid line readings by teenaged actors.
It was also a wonderful idea for the production team to shoot in North Carolina. The locale provided an exceedingly creepy farmhouse and some wonderful landscape shots.
Fine points aside The Conjuring, unfortunately, doesn’t carry with it the overwhelming scares, the character development or the ingenuity to put it on a level playing field with classics like “The Exorcist” or “Poltergeist.” True, few horror movies can get there but it would be nice to see a contender finally arrive on the scene. The Conjuring with some extra effort could have been that contender.