The Conjuring

Directed By: James Wan

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Mackenzie Foy, and Joey King

The slate of horror movies at the box office has actually impressed me this year.  There's largely been a step away from the outright torture porn that’s dominated the genre in recent years and a step toward what perhaps may be the next generation of horror films.  With Evil Dead earlier this spring and Carrie later in the fall, remakes sadly aren't going anywhere.  That being said, there's no new Paranormal Activity.  There's no new Saw.  With the exception of the upcoming Insidious Chapter 2, there's no new sequel to any prominent horror franchise this year.  What we have now is often more original fare.  Just look at filmmakers' attempts at new sadistic ways to frighten us with last month's The Purge and next month's You're Next.  We're also getting more old school ghost stories like Mama and this weekend's The Conjuring.

Couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) have spent a career chasing ghosts, demons, and other paranormal beings.  Ed is a demonologist, and Lorraine is a clairvoyant.  Together, they've been able to help many, many people endure some truly frightening things.  They've participated in many exorcisms and gotten up close and personal with many demonic spirits.  At a university in Massachusetts, they frequently give lectures to students on the work they do and the horrors they've encountered.  There's one tale they don't tell.  That's the work they did with the Perron family to confront the ghost witch Bathsheba.

Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) have just moved into a farmhouse in rural Massachusetts along with their five daughters.  As they get settled, they begin to notice bizarre things happening around the house.  Parts of the house are blocked off altogether.  Strange noises occur during the night.  The clocks in the house all stop at 3:07am.  Birds break their necks flying into the side of their house.  Despite all of this, they go on with life as usual.  When there's an extra participant in the clapping game that Carolyn and her daughters frequently play, the family gets a rude awakening and realize that they're not the only ones living in this farmhouse.  Carolyn consults Ed and Lorraine Warren and convinces them to come investigate the home to determine whether there is a supernatural presence.  It turns out that the Perron house is home to the most terrifying, demonic spirits the Warrens have ever encountered.

With the backdrop of the 60s, The Conjuring offers plenty of old school chills and thrills.  Director James Wan expertly crafts one frightening tale.  He delivers a solid addition to the ghost sub-genre that's a whole lot of fun, and I've got quite a few good things to say about this scary flick.  That being said, the film doesn't reach the heights of some of the great ghost stories.  The reason for which this is the case is that The Conjuring is fundamentally flawed.  It's too dependent upon weak-minded characters doing dumb things and provoking their supernatural antagonists.  If we were treated to some more intelligent characters from the outset, The Conjuring could have joined an elite class of horror movies.

James Wan masterfully puts together one creepy flick in The Conjuring.  First, he gives us a cast of playful yet terrifying ghosts.  Whether these ghosts are playing the clapping game with Carolyn or violently dragging one of the Perron girls through the air, they're delightful paranormal menaces (from the audience’s perspective).  Second, Wan continuously tries to scare his viewers and frequently succeeds in doing so.  With people frequently disappearing into the unknown parts of the house, ghosts like Rory popping up behind toy music boxes and everywhere else in the farmhouse, and the clairvoyant Lorraine reliving the horrors through which these ghosts went when they walked the earth, Wan develops an ever-building cacophony of freaky events.  Finally, he takes one of our characters through the three stages of a demonic presence invading one's life—infestation, oppression, and possession.  As Wan explores each of these stages, the stakes rise, and the thrills continuously escalate.

The characters do a lot of dumb things in The Conjuring, and it takes away from the spooky flick Wan has crafted.  There are plenty of examples of this.  If you look at the Perron family and their interactions with the ghosts prior to seeking the help of the Warrens, it's absolutely baffling.  They do the most illogical things and land themselves in even more precarious situations.  The same can be said for some of the supporting characters.  Just look at John Brotherton's police officer Brad who follows ghosts around the Perron home without backup or the young women in the opening sequence who invite a demon to invade their doll Annabelle.  This kind of nonsense really holds a good movie like The Conjuring back.

Regardless of these problems, The Conjuring delivers the goods.  It's one crowd-pleasing thriller that will give you a taste of some old school horror.  Sit back with a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc for this one.  The Conjuring gets a strong 0.06% rating.