We’ve all seen plenty of horror films about things that go bump in the night. There’s plenty of that going on in this truly creepy based-on-fact item. The problem with “The Conjuring,” only for those of you who don’t have nerves of steel, is that things here also go bump in the daytime, and indoors, and outdoors.
This is a movie about demons, ghosts, witches, whatever you want to call them. It follows the Perron family – mom, dad, five daughters, dog – who move to an isolated old house (one which, in the finest of red flag warnings, Daisy the dog won’t enter), are overjoyed when they discover a boarded-up cellar, then start witnessing and hearing the oddest of experiences.
There are distant (and close-up) knocking sounds; every clock in the place stops at the same time every night; mom starts finding mysterious bruises on her body; one of the girls, almost asleep, tells her sister, over in the next bed, to “stop grabbing my foot!” even though her sister and that bed are nowhere near her.
Plenty of time is spent in this house, where things keep going badly for these nice people, and those same things make for a very scary viewing experience. There’s an interesting juncture in the film where, due to some perfectly placed shockeroos, characters in the screen and people in the audience are screaming at the same time, at the same volume.
But in a terrific example of a script maintaining a certain balance, the film is just as much about a different family – the Warrens – a pair of demonologists who are called in by the frightened Perrons to help them deal with whatever supernatural business is going on.
Directed by James Wan, who has scared the bejeebers out of us before with the gory “Saw” and the suspenseful “Insidious,” this film goes a different route in delivering the shivers. It’s practically bloodless, and depends instead on restless, constantly moving cameras as well as loud noises, quick, horrific visuals, and suggestions of rancid smells that, one of the Warrens explains, could be a sign of demonic activity.
Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) is a clairvoyant. Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) is a paranormal investigator with some religious training. Their teamwork, which brings them onto the lecture circuit and into homes where, as in this one “a dark entity has latched on to the family, and the house needs an exorcism.”
The Perron story, we’re told, took place in Rhode Island in 1971. Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) was at wit’s end in trying to protect his family, but it was his wife, Carolyn (Lili Taylor), who finally reached out to the Warrens, who did this kind of work often, and usually found rational explanations for their cases.
Not this time! They realize it as soon as they walk in the door. We realize it as soon as they start giving each other silent, knowing looks. James Wan fills the film with neat moments: Little Cindy is sleepwalking (again), and the scene is accompanying by the great Santo & Johnny song “Sleep Walk” on the soundtrack. Young April chats on and on with her new friend Rory, but there’s nobody in the room with her. Carolyn, playing a game with her kids, approaches a closet blindfolded (not a good idea).
Near the end, a lot of truly frightening things are going on all over the place, culminating in one hell of an intense exorcism. This is great fun to watch with an audience that enjoys this kind of thing. But anyone doing so will also probably stay out of dark rooms for a while.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes; directed by James Wan
With Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor