THE CONJURING (James Wan, 2013)
Opens Thursday, July 18
James Wan’s truly scary ghost story The Conjuring follows in the grand tradition of such classic horror fare as The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Haunting, and Burnt Offerings, as a house serves as the setting for a journey straight into hell. Written by twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (The Reaping, Whiteout), the film is based on a real case in which noted demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) were called in to help the Perron family when mysterious things start happening after the Perrons move into an isolated Rhode Island house. It’s 1970, and truck driver Roger (Ron Livingston) and his wife, Carolyn (Lili Taylor), are trying to make a go of it with their five daughters in a new town, but when doors start opening and closing on their own, all the clocks stop at 3:07 a.m., Carolyn wakes up every morning with horrible bruises, and one of the girls makes friends with a boy who only appears in a mirror in a music box, they decide to enlist the Warrens to cleanse the house and save their souls. But the Warrens have issues of their own, including a recent exorcism that nearly destroyed Lorraine, a clairvoyant, and their overly curious daughter, especially when it comes to Ed’s collection of paraphernalia from previous cases, highlighted by a devilishly evil haunted doll named Annabelle. Wan, who directed the similarly creepy Insidious and the best of the Saw movies, treats the genre with decency and respect, refusing to go overboard with red herrings and gore, instead favoring the more psychological kind of terror that will scare audiences right of their skin and down to their shaking bones. The story does lapse into overly religious rhetoric — the Warrens were God-fearing Catholics who were authorized by the Vatican to perform exorcisms — and it relies heavily on the controversial trope of so many of these types of tales, involving danger between mothers and daughters. And a flash reference to the Salem Witch Trials being just and deserved really should have been cut. Otherwise, The Conjuring is an expert haunted house flick, filled with unique, genuine frights that won’t make it easy for anyone who sees it to sleep peacefully.