The Conjuring (2013) / Horror-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence and disturbing images
Running time: 112 min.
Cast: Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Review published July 21, 2013
I'm not entirely certain why this inspired-by-a-true-story (as chronicled in Andrea Perron's book, "House of Darkness, House of Light") shocker is rated R, except perhaps that the MPAA might have though the film too psychologically intense for kids, but, to me, it's no more intense that PG-13 horror flicks like The Ring and The Grudge. I also don't find it inordinately scary, but it is well created, especially in its use of sound to create tension, which is more than one could say about most jump-scare dominated horror films released in theaters today.
Saw creator James Wan directs in fine fashion, relying less on gimmicks that have been part of his prior films, though there are still a handful of standard cheap scares that do seem out of place in this more psychological terror-driven story. Wan imbues the film with a strong sense of period, utilizing the sights and sounds of the late 1960s and early 1970s to rich and ominous effect, without being too obvious or hokey in his approach.
Most of the film is set in 1971, in Harrisville, Rhode Island, where a family of seven -- parents Roger (Livingston, Game Change) and Carolyn (Taylor, Public Enemies), and their five young daughters -- have just moved in to their large country 18th-century abode. It's an idyllic existence, at least at first, until they discover such creepy things as a boarded up entrance to the basement of forgotten furniture, disturbing events that befall them in the middle of the night, and the stench of rotting meat that wafts around the house. Too invested in their fixer-upper to hope to go somewhere else, the family endures these odd events until they can't any longer, eventually reaching our for assistance from those who can explain the unexplainable.
Patrick Wilson (Prometheus, Watchmen) and Vera Farmiga ("Bates Motel", Safe House) co-star as renowned 'demonologists' (aka, paranormal investigators) Ed and Lorraine Warren, who regularly check out people's homes in order to determine if the strange sights and sounds they are hearing at night are the result of demonic presence, or easily explainable everyday phenomena. The Perrons convince the husband-and-wife team to check out the place, and it is soon discovered that the demonic haunting is perhaps more powerful and malevolent than any of them could have anticipated.
The Conjuring is a bit of a slow burn, much like The Exorcist, to which many people might compare this to. Jump-scares are certainly there, but scaring the bejeezus out of you isn't main mission of the script by the twin brother team of Chad and Carey Hayes (The Reaping, House of Wax) here, as they try to stay relatively grounded to the actual account, even if Wan ratchets up the events immensely to make things play better cinematically. The more subdued approach begins to pay off later in the film's climax, as we're invested in the characters and their harrowing plights, and though this film isn't above going for a gimmicky jolt now and then (especially as the malevolence spills over into the Warren home), it remains thoughtful in its approach to dole out a creepy, good time.
The Conjuring has one foot solidly rooted in the horror films of today, and one to the styles of its setting, the 1970s, merging the scary shocks with the supernatural stories featuring religious thematic undercurrents. A fine cast of actors, especially by Taylor and Farmiga in the lead female roles, bolsters this to be a notch above your average horror flick. It's a very familiar story, offering little new to the genre, but it is welcoming to those who enjoy a competently made scare flick and are leery of the excessive gore and torture that pollute most examples of the genre in theaters today.
Trivia: The Warrens are also known as being part of the team to investigate the events that would eventually become another similar well known book-turned-horror movie shocker, The Amityville Horror, which is subtly alluded to in this film.
©2013 Vince Leo