THE CONJURING (2013) movie review

Conjuring, The (2013) d. Wan, James (USA)

Celebrated real-life paranormalists Ed and Lorraine Warren, central to the investigation of the Amityville Horror case, are the focus of this atmospheric if slightly generic haunted house/possession thriller. The two are presented as level-headed researchers, keen to find the natural causes of strange noises and/or unusual happenings but with a firm belief in the supernatural and prepared to use whatever tools necessary to suit the situation. Their latest case comes to them in the form of a Massachusetts residence recently inhabited by a struggling young family, the Perrons, with numerous bizarre and increasingly violent events taking place within after they uncover a hidden stairwell leading to an abandoned cellar filled with the former owners' possessions (pun intended).

There are still a few clunkers designed for laughs, but the overt comic relief elements present in Insidious are largely absent here; the sober tone suits the film and solid performances aid the cause. Patrick Wilson, often insufferably dull, delivers a relatively inoffensive straightforward turn as Ed with 70 sideburns in place. Vera Farmiga, who has also trod genre ground before with Joshua and Orphan, provides a delicately shaded turn as Lorraine who is strong but visibly weakened by her repeated and ongoing interactions with the other side. Lili Taylor is all nervous energy and simple laughs as the troubled Perron matriarch, running a house of young daughters while the pragmatic Livingston ekes out his living as a long haul truck driver.

Screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes handily address the "why don't they simply leave the freakin' house" house dilemma - one that plagues most haunting tales - twofold: 1) we are told that Taylor and Livingston have all their money tied up in the house and 2) the Warrens explain that the malevolent spirit may have already attached itself to one of the family members in the form of possession. Though often predictable in its unfolding, the scare sequences are quite effective, including a climactic wingding that ranks favorably alongside those of The Last Exorcism and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Despite the wunderkind status he's achieved with the success of Saw and Insidious (two problematic yet wildly lucrative films), Wan remains a capable if unremarkable director. However, I don't think it's any great stretch to say that Conjuring represents his most successfully realized work to date, as its grounded approach relies more on solid characters and cultivating impressive suspense/mood rather than relying on overblown aural jump scares. Perhaps it was the "based on a true story" element that kept him in check - if so, he would do well to seek out more of the same.


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