Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston
Running Time: 112 minutes
Synopsis: In 1971, Carolyn and Roger Perren move their family into a dilapidated Rhode Island farm house and soon strange things start happening around it with escalating nightmarish terror. In desperation, Carolyn contacts the noted paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, to examine the house. What the Warrens discover is a whole area steeped in a satanic haunting that is now targeting the Perren family wherever they go. To stop this evil, the Warrens will have to call upon all their skills and spiritual strength to defeat this spectral menace at its source that threatens to destroy everyone involved.
'Based on a true story' is something that usually makes me fairly nervous for how a film will turn out. That's mostly true with horror movies or those cheesy Lifetime biopics. Most of the time, it tends to mean that you need to take the result with a grain of salt. Human beings are the worst at exaggerating a story as time passes simply due to the fallibility of memories. Once you add screenwriters to the mix, those slightly exaggerated memories become full blown moments of creative license. In a situation like this, creative license takes on a whole new depth. The realm of the supernatural is already a subjective front. You either believe in it or you don't. Sensationalizing a true story will terrify believers and make skeptics deride it even more.
The Conjuring is a film based off the case files of a very real couple known for investigating the paranormal. Ed and Lorraine Warren have been involved in several hauntings that have been turned into movies such as A Haunting in Connecticut and The Haunted. They also investigated the story more commonly known as the Amityville horror. While skeptics have questioned the validity of their investigations, there are few true believers that doubt the couple. Out of all their cases, the Perron family's story hadn't been turned into a book or movie. However, the Conjuring doesn't only touch on the Perron story. Two of their other cases are shown or mentioned as well. The most prominent of those two cases being that of the Annabelle doll. For the purposes of the movie, the doll itself was changed into something much creepier than the Raggedy Ann doll it is in reality. Also, getting the rights to use the Raggedy Ann image from Hasbro might have been difficult.
This is a particularly hard review to write without giving away anything that will spoil the film too much. If you're going into this movie hoping to see gore, foul language and sex, you won't get any of those things. This movie fits in quite well with classic, old school haunted house/possession films such as Exorcist or Amityville Horror as well as horror thrillers like The Birds. You're going to see some familiar sights. It's hard to avoid comparisons when your subject matter is basically the same as nearly every other haunted house story. A family moves into a seemingly innocent home with the house's origins unbeknownst to them. Everything seems fine until strange things begin to happen. There's no difference in this story. The family is your everyday family. The house seems to be a normal home.
The strength in The Conjuring lies in the shift of focus. Where normal haunted house tale focus almost entirely on the family, there is a very balanced shift between the Perrons and the Warrens. The movie has a strong cast to back this up. Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston are great as the Perron parents. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson had great chemistry as the Warrens. Even the child actresses who played the five Perron daughters were quite good at what they were doing. The one who stood out the most to me was Joey King as Christine. Her terror was written all over her face in several scenes.
In addition to the strength of the actors, it's the choice in the music that really sets things apart. Wan brings back Joseph Bishara who provided the score for Insidious. Much like their previous collaboration, there were times when the music gave me chills. In most modern horror films, this would lead to a jump scare with one of two outcomes. It would either be a genuine scare or more often a simple misdirect. That's one thing I like about James Wan. When he intends to scare you, the suspense isn't built in order to throw a random cat at you. Wan didn't skimp on the authentic 1970s details either. From the clothing to the equipment, the filmmakers did a great job at a convincing period piece.
I enjoyed The Conjuring. My prediction is that it'll end up with a cult following much like other horrors of it's nature. This isn't your typical jump fest. It's not going to terrify you. It will leave you unsettled and looking twice in dark corners. It's hard to scare me, but even I found myself tucking my feet tightly under my blankets when I went to bed! I hope that this movie symbolizes a shift into cleaner, more intelligent horror films.