Director James Wan has made his mark on horror by directing the first Saw movie, which sawed its way to an extremely successful series of torture-porn sequels. More recently, he surprised the critics with the success of his old-school demon-haunting flick Insidious, a low-budget flick that made a great deal of bank. Alas, I was apparently one of the few unimpressed with Insidious, which I thought should have been called Insipid. Thusly, my expectations for The Conjuring were quite low.
But Holy Cow (or Holy Hell?)! After a kind of cheesy spooky-doll intro, The Conjuring is genuinely scary, and I know I wasn’t the only one in the audience having to shake out jitters afterwards.
The story is based on true events from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, famed demonologists who are probably best known for their case that inspired The Amityville Horror. It’s 1971, and a nice family moves into a bad house. You know right away that the house is up to no good as their dog refuses to enter, and birds occasionally hurl themselves through windows. But hey, who listens to critters? Not people in the movies!
Things quickly start going bump in the night. The clocks all stop shortly after three in the morning, and the kids blame each other for playing that game where you yank your sleeping sister out of bed by her toes. It doesn’t help that dad Roger (Ron Livingston) has a long-haul job that leaves mom Carolyn (Lili Taylor) home alone with the littlest ones. When things escalate from weird to terrifying, the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are enlisted. But before you can yell optimistically, “This house is CLEAN!” there is a LOT of hell to go through in the meantime.
Horror movies are always much more effective when you can’t see what goes bump in the night. Luckily, The Conjuring sticks to this technique for the majority of the movie, so that you are completely on edge. As a terrified girl screams and points to a “demon” in the shadow, you are gnashing your teeth and straining to see what she sees. This of course sets you up for all sorts of jumps and squeals.
The Conjuring is best seen in a theater where you can share your fear and follow it with a round of giggles afterwards. Because, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’d want to watch this one at home.
After watching The Conjuring, you (like me) will most likely run to the internet to research the true story behind the events of the film. Luckily, the special features provide new interviews with many of the folks involved. Ed and Lorraine Warren’s storied careers are profiled in “A Life in Demonology”. Lorraine is still spunky and fascinating, and no nonsense when she talks about the field that she and her late husband basically invented for modern times (with all of their recording devices and electronic sensor tools). She is obviously well-regarded in the paranormal research field by everyone from modern ghost hunters to even priests, who are featured in interviews. “The Conjuring: Face-to-Face with Terror” features interviews with the Perron family, including mom Carolyn, dad Roger, and all the children, now adults. They are obviously still spooked, and images of the actual house they lived in made me kind of glad they at least changed the look of it a bit for the film… Otherwise, I imagine looky-loos would go seek it out and go straight to hell. Finally “Scaring the ‘@$*%’ Out of You” is a fun profile of director James Wan and the film crew, as they discuss the best techniques in filmmaking that are guaranteed to get the audience to soil its collective pants.