1 hour, 52 minutes
New Line Cinema
When the new film of the week is an R-rated horror flick from the director of “Saw,” I am not normally the first in line. Sadistic torture in movies is something I can definitely do without, and that’s pretty much the definition of the entire “Saw” series, but my interest was peaked somewhat by the fact that director James Wan also brought us “Insidious,” a mid-level, though entertaining ghost story about a pale big-eyed kid and his travails in the spirit world. “Insidious” was the kind of ghost story I like, though sillier than most. “Insidious,” though, was PG-13, which pretty much ensures that they can’t have murders with power-tools, one of my criteria when picking movies these days. “The Conjuring” is rated R, which would normally have kept me away, until I looked up what the film was rated R for. Lo and behold, I found that this film has a restricted rating not for sex, gore, or language, because of each of these, there is none. Rather it’s rated R for simply being too scary. Wow. Now that could be worth seeing.
To say I was pleasantly surprised with this taut, seventies-style thriller would be an understatement. “The Conjuring,” which chronicles a particularly difficult case for a husband/wife team of paranormal researchers, opens, James Bond-style, on a completely separate case. Two young nurses are being terrorized by a doll named Annabelle, which moves on it’s own and leaves menacing notes. Scary dolls are nothing to Ed and Lorraine Warren, however, and soon they’ve saved the nurses and contained the doll in their own eclectic house of horrors, a room in their home that houses artifacts collected over years of investigations. The pair make a modest living on the lecture circuit and are in semi-retirement when approached by a desperate Carolyn Perron, played nicely by Lili Taylor. The Perrons are a nice family of five daughters who have sunk everything they own into a scenic old farmhouse, only to find out that it is infested with a whole host of unpleasant dead people. When the paranormal activity turns violent and menacing, the family is at a loss. After some cajoling, Ed and Lorraine are finally convinced to pay the house a visit, and what they find is worse than anyone imagined. Lorraine is clairvoyant, and can see the spirits inhabiting the house. Of them, the worst is an evil old witch who will soon attempt to inhabit the body of poor Carolyn. The Warren’s find themselves in a race against time stop the malevolent spirit, before it’s too late.
There is so much to like in “The Conjuring,” especially if you like scary movies - again, I didn’t say gory or horrifying movies, I said “scary.” I was particularly impressed with the look of the film, including the camera work, which did give the entire production a real seventies-era feel. The music, the way the camera operator would employ deep zooms, the color scheme, it all spoke to a period in film where these kind of chilling films were popular. Wan, however, isn’t Quentin Tarantino, making a perfect archival replica of the seventies supernatural thriller right down to the over-exposed film and the odd pop song by Karen Carpenter. What Wan is doing is much more subtle, and effective, in my opinion. The cast is great, from the five young actresses playing the Perron daughters, to Ron Livingstone as the truck-driving Mr. Perron, to our heroes, Ed and Lorraine, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively. These two are great, especially Farmiga who exudes both vulnerability and strength. Interestingly, and somewhat confusingly, Patrick Wilson also starred as the lead of “Insidious” I guess he and Wan work well together.
The film is touted be based on true events, and this is certainly the case - Ed and Lorraine are real people, and Lorraine is still with us, though pushing 90. The Warrens are the actual investigators in both the case of “The Amityville Horror” and “A Haunting in Connecticut.” After reading up ion the case a little, I was disappointed to learn that “loosely based” might be more appropriate. Several of the events didn’t take place the way they do on screen, and the whole third act is simply wishful thinking. Then again, I suppose I should be glad that not everything depicted in the movie is true. That would keep you up nights, no problem. In the end, what they’ve crafted is a good, fast-paced thrill ride, and no one’s going to argue with that.
“The Conjuring” is rated R for being too scary.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.