THE CONJURING (2013), the latest horror movie by director James Wan, the man who directed SAW (2004) and INSIDIOUS (2010), is a classic example of style over substance.
There is nothing original about the story this movie tells, and some of the plot points are downright silly, but you know what? I liked it, mostly because it’s directed with gusto by Wan, and he gives this one an eerie edge throughout.
It’s the early 1970s, and the Perron family move into their new home, which of course is going to be haunted, in this case by a demon. You know, for once I’d like to see a haunted house story not about a family moving into a new home. Maybe the demon can move in for once. You know, the family’s been living there for years, and then this demon shows up looking for a new start in its demonic life— well, I digress.
The Perrons are your typical family, led by truck driver dad Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), sporting a very 70s haircut, and stay-at-home mom Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five daughters, including the angst-filled teen who’s none too happy about moving into a new house, but to be fair, she stops complaining early on, so thankfully we avoid this cliché.
Strange things begin to happen in the Perron household (of course!), odd noises, foul odors, and unseen visitors, all of which eventually lead them to conclude that their home is haunted.
At the same time, the movie also introduces paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) a husband and wife team who go around the country helping people with their haunted houses and giving college lectures.
The movie tells parallel stories of both the Perron and the Warren families, until of course, Carolyn Perron contacts Ed and Lorraine and convinces them to come to her family’s house and take on the case. And it’s here where the movie really takes off, when Ed and Lorraine arrive at the Perron home with their team, which includes another investigator Drew (Shannon Kook) and a police officer Brad (John Brotherton).
The rest of the movie follows this team’s efforts to identify the threat in the Perron household, and there are many—the house is occupied by anguished spirits and one very powerful demon— and then to protect the family and eventually exorcise the demon before it does what it wants to do, which is murder the Perron children.
I really enjoyed the cast in THE CONJURING, especially Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the husband and wife investigator team of Ed and Lorraine Warren. They’re a very believable couple.
The Warrens have a cool room full of relics which were once haunted, including a demonic doll introduced in the film’s opening segment, where we see the Warrens handle an earlier case. As Ed tells an interviewer, they keep all these things rather than destroy them because they believe they’re able to contain the malevolent spirits this way. Burn the objects, and the spirits will be released. Nice thinking, although I question why they’d store these items in a room inside their home where their young daughter lives. Wouldn’t it make more sense to house these things somewhere else?
Patrick Wilson makes for a very heroic and likeable lead as Ed Warren. I like Wilson more each time I see him. He played the dad in INSIDIOUS (2010), and he was also Night Owl in WATCHMEN (2009).
As much as I liked Wilson, I liked Vera Farmiga even more as Lorraine Warren. As Lorraine, she’s just as strong and heroic as Wilson, but with the added vulnerability of having been attacked at an earlier exorcism, the details of which she refuses to divulge to her husband. She’s also a clairvoyant, and she provides the main conduit for communicating with the spirits in this story. She’s an interesting character.
Farmiga is currently starring in the TV show BATES MOTEL (2013-14), and she’s been in a lot of other movies as well. She was memorable as the police psychiatrist Madolyn in THE DEPARTED (2006), the woman who becomes involved with both Matt Damon’s crooked cop and Leonardo DiCaprio’s mob infiltrator. She delivers the best performance in THE CONJURING.
Lili Taylor is also very good as Carolyn Perron. She does a nice job, at first playing the concerned mother, and then later, as the demon sets its sights on her, she gets to be the frightening possessed monster. Taylor was one of the highlights of the otherwise underwhelming thriller THE COURIER (2012) in which she played an assassin named Mrs. Capo.
The five young actresses who play the Perron daughters are also all very good.
THE CONJURING has very little to say that hasn’t been said before, but there were things about the screenplay by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes that I liked. I definitely enjoyed the emphasis placed on the paranormal investigative team of the Warrens. Their presence made the story much more interesting than had it been only about the Perron family tackling the ghosts on their own. This was done to some degree in INSIDIOUS, but the Warrens are a much more compelling team than the investigators in INSIDIOUS.
The Perron family also remains believable throughout and avoids many of the cliché pratfalls of movie haunted house families. As soon as the Perrons learn what’s going on, Roger wisely says “we have to get out of this house,” but Ed tells him that it’s not the house that’s possessed, but his family, and the demon would only follow him. Again, this concept is not new (see INSIDIOUS) but it’s still handled well, mostly because the movie doesn’t insult our intelligence.
But the best part by far of THE CONJURING is the energetic direction by James Wan. This movie is not at all graphic, and yet, it includes many frightening images and some decent scares. As a horror movie fan, you’ve got to love it. Some of the memorable images include a gruesome hanging body, a grieving spirit anguished over the death of its daughter, a creepy toy with a mirror in which you can see the face of a ghost, and who can forget the eerie demon doll sitting inside the locked glass cabinet of the Warren household?
This movie is chock-full of fun horror elements.
But is it scary? Well, it’s not the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen, and sure, it could be scarier, but there are enough thrills and chills to keep most horror fans satisfied.
It also gets the pacing right. Things start off slowly, but as soon as the Warrens arrive to investigate the Perron’s home, the movie cranks it up and never looks back. This is how a movie should be paced. It should get more intense as it goes along, which is exactly what happens in THE CONJURING. That being said, the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as I’d hoped, but it’s still pretty darn good.
THE CONURING also has an excellent music score by Joseph Bishara, who also did the music for INSIDIOUS.
THE CONJURING is far from perfect, and it doesn’t have an original bone in its body, but it is one very fun very satisfying horror movie. I definitely recommend it.