Directed by James Wan
Something you may or may not know about me is that I’m an extreme paranormal buff, and I have extensively studied a lot of the cases that real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren handled. So I approached this film, which is a dramatic telling of the horrors experienced by Roger and Carolyn Perron along with their daughters, from a bit of a different standpoint than most. Being familiar with both the case and the history of the Warrens gave me a couple of preconceived notions upon going in regarding what I would see and how everyone would be portrayed.
Let’s start with Ed and Lorraine themselves, portrayed in The Conjuring by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively. To my delight everyone has seemingly done their homework. Under James Wan’s direction Wilson and Farmiga captured not only the professional and spiritual sides of the duo but also their warmth and sensitivity as a family themselves. Make no mistake; even though the lion’s share of the film focuses on the Perron haunting, this film belongs to the Warrens as their story is the anchor which keeps this spooky ship firmly docked in port. Kudos to the actors.
To my surprise and without giving away too much, the film starts with its focus on one of the Warrens’ other most famous and frightening cases, the haunting of Annabelle the Doll, and she – or it for that matter – ends up being a key piece of the puzzle of the film itself. As for the Perron haunting, Roger (Livingston) and Carolyn (Taylor) move with their daughters to a vintage farmhouse out in the country to start their lives away from the dangers of the bigger cities. Little do they know that there are far greater dangers and absolute evil waiting for them in the dark and always moving shadows of the home. Things quickly spiral out of control for the Perrons and they begin to actively seek help as a means to both keep their family safe and cope with the problems that are slowly taking their toll on all parties concerned. Luckily for them, the Warrens are giving one of their famed lectures on the paranormal nearby, and Carolyn decides to show up, plead her case, and ask for their help. That is the spoiler-free version of the story, and it’s all I’m presenting here because the less you know and have seen regarding The Conjuring, the more effective the film will be.
That being said… it is EXTREMELY effective. The Conjuring is home to some of the single most frightening haunted house scares ever committed to film. My biggest fear going in was that some of these moments would come off as goofy or too over-the-top, but Wan manages to clearly ride the line between reality and the absurd as if he were a stone grinding against the blade of a razor. While the film is home to some big-time scare moments, nothing ever comes off as too campy or ridiculous. Wan shows a lot of restraint, and as a result the flick delivers in spades. Speaking of delivering… Lili Taylor. This woman is a veritable powerhouse of an actor, and the fearless performance she turns in during the climax of the film will leave you shuddering in your seat, white-knuckled and gasping. To say that she really “goes for it” is a complete understatement.
The Conjuring is also very much a period piece and feels genuine in terms of setting. From the hairstyles to the clothes, everything has a real air of authenticity. In fact, the illusion is nearly perfect with the exception of a scene involving the usage of a current song whose lyrics almost feel a bit too on the nose for the goings-on in the movie. Don’t get me wrong; it sounds like a Seventies song, but in the end it kind of left me scratching my head. Still, if that’s the main problem present here, then hey… who cares? Most probably won’t even notice. There are a couple of minor missteps along the way, but overall the pacing is pretty much pitch perfect and the effects work never distracts you from the fact that both the Warrens and the Perrons are The Conjuring‘s true beating heart and it’s their story that works to drive this movie home.
In the end I truly believe that Ed, who passed away many years ago, would be very proud of this film, and that’s the highest compliment I could ever pay it. The Conjuring is a masterclass in absolute terror that’s destined to become a classic within the genre. There’s no question that for most it will easily be scariest film of the summer… or even the year. The flick showcases the kind of pure, relentless horror that will leave audiences thoroughly creeped out and screaming.
4 out of 5