Before we delve too deeply into the latest supernatural thriller, The Conjuring, I must warn you all that if you don't like the idea of being totally freaked out and scared out of your wits while watching a film then maybe this isn't the movie for you. If you have any sort of pre-existing heart condition, or are prone to breaking out in a cold sweat as bone chilling terror and dread slowly inch their way up the back of your spine, you may want to think twice about entering the theater. But, on the other hand, if the prospect of being thrust into a nightmarish world of evil spirits and demonic possession makes your pulse race with excitement and anticipation, then you owe it to yourself to seek out what is easily the best and scariest horror film of the year thus far. The Conjuring just about made me soil myself. Now there's a good tagline for the poster eh?
The Conjuring is based on a true story of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), who are best known for having investigated the famous Amityville house. They were considered to be the nation's pre-eminent experts in their field for decades and even had the support of the Vatican. The majority of cases they took on mostly consisted of them disproving or debunking so called strange occurrences and showing folks that there was a rationale explanation for all of it. Every so often, however, they would stumble upon a case that defied explanation, and in the case presented to them in this film, they encountered what they believed to be the most malevolent force anyone has ever had to deal with.
We are introduced to the Perron family, consisting of father Roger (Ron Livingston), mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five daughters. The year is 1971 and the Perron's are just moving into an old farmhouse that they recently purchased at an auction. The aura surrounding the house is already creepy right away when we see that the family dog refuses to set foot inside and whimpers in fright. The floorboards are really creaky, there are cobwebs everywhere and there are antique pieces of furniture left behind from the previous owners (never a good sign). It doesn't take long for strange things to start happening, in the form of moving objects, weird thumping noises, blurry sightings in mirrors, and most disturbingly, bruises that appear out of nowhere on Carolyn's body. There's a whole lot of scary stuff that occurs, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone so I will be as vague as I can.
When it becomes clear that they are dealing with something otherworldly, they call upon the Warrens to help them figure out what is going on. Lorraine Warren is a clairvoyant and she possesses a unique insight into the history of the house and the restless spirits that may be haunting it. The deeper they delve into their investigation, they discover that what they are dealing with is a powerful force that presents an immediate and extreme danger to the family. I won't describe anything that happens, but suffice it to say that you won't find me venturing into a dank, dark, unfinished cellar ever again, that's for sure.
Now, I'm a natural born skeptic where demonic possession is concerned. When I see "based on true events," I normally chock it up to supernatural hokum and superstitious claptrap. I think, however, in order to fully enjoy The Conjuring, one needs to dismiss their skepticism and just allow it to work as a good old-fashioned ghost story and horror film. If you allow yourself to just go with it and be sucked in to this tale of evil spirits then I can assure you that you are in for a treat.
Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) has fashioned a meticulously crafted horror film that harkens back to some of the great scary movies from the 60s and 70s where tone and atmosphere were the primary means to elicit fear rather than the blood and gore of today's thrillers. You may be reminded of films like The Haunting, The Exorcist and Poltergeist, just to name a few. What I loved about The Conjuring is that it really commits to this genre and plays everything dead serious. There is absolutely no joking around and no self parody going on here. Wan does a tremendous job of building suspense throughout the picture and he slowly ramps up the terror and dread until we can barely take it anymore by the film's final act. The terror is so relentless throughout that the MPAA slapped it with an R-rating even though the film contains no gore, no swearing, no nudity and minimal violence. They just deemed everything about it simply too scary for most individuals. If you aren't squirming in your seat or gripping the edge of it out of sheer fright then I don't know what to say to you. Why do you go to horror films again?
I also have to give credit to the excellent cast for selling this material and pulling it off properly. As an audience member I actually became invested in these people and grew to care about what happens to them. Connecting to the characters allows you to feel even more dread and fear when the strange events are happening. Wilson and Farmiga do a great job as the Warrens, but the real standout is Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron. She is utterly convincing as a mother who is slowly being taken over by a mysterious entity of which she has no control over. I guarantee she will freak you out by the end of this movie.
Alright, that's it, I'm not telling you anymore about this film - just go and see it. If you consider yourself a fan of horror at all, and in particular old school atmospheric ghost stories, then The Conjuring is a must see. It's sure to give you goosebumps and make you shiver in frightful delight. It truly is the scariest movie of the year so far.
I give The Conjuring an 8.5 out of 10.
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