MRR Review: "The Conjuring"

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

MRR Review: "The Conjuring"

-- Rating: R (sequences of disturbing violence and terror)
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: July 19, 2013
Directed by: James Wan
Genre: Horror/Thriller

The opening scene of "The Conjuring" is among the creepiest and scariest of any horror film in recent memory. It features Perron family matriarch Carolyn (Lili Taylor) playing a game of hide and seek with her daughters. The problem is that as Carolyn follows her young daughter's claps, she is led to a wardrobe in her new home that is haunted. It has a spirit inside that has been doing all the clapping, leading Carolyn into a terrifying scene that is only part of the mayhem that will eventually happen in the Perron house.

Carolyn and her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) bought the house dirt cheap at auction, which should have set off all kinds of alarms in his head. Unfortunately, it didn't, and now the couple and their five children find themselves in a home where strange noises are commonplace. There are also occasional strange smells that make the house an unpleasant place to be. They try to ignore these, but the strange activities begin to escalate and happen more frequently. When some of the girls begin getting bruises on their bodies, that is when Roger calls on the Warrens.

Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are a married couple who have dedicated their lives to the study of ghosts and demons. The story the Perrons tell them might sound crazy to anyone else, but to the Warrens, it sounds like an everyday occurrence. They come to the house and immediately know they are dealing with one of the worst hauntings they have ever encountered. They set up camp in the home to try and figure out what the demon wants and how to get rid of it before someone gets hurt or killed. It turns out that the demon wants to possess the family, so the Warrens must hurry and devise a plan to vanquish it before the demon gets what it wants.

Director James Wan is the horror auteur behind the original "Saw" in 2004, which combined elements of suspense, desperation, and claustrophobia to create a mood that was intoxicating. The film was wholly original at the time and earned back its modest budget easily at the box office, making Wan into something of an overnight directorial sensation. After experimenting in gore and shock films, Wan has abandoned blood and guts in favor of going back to his roots by setting a mood to help sustain the horror. The mood and tension he creates in "The Conjuring" hearken back to old-school horror movies where shadows and noises were used to scare people much more than an actual boogey man with a weapon. Wan seems to realize all too well that what the audience doesn't see can be far more frightening than anything he can put up on the screen.

The film is based on a case out of the files of real-life couple Ed and Lorraine Warren. Though Ed died in 2006, Lorraine is still very much alive and even served as a consultant on the film and has as small cameo in one scene. The couple investigated paranormal activity for fifty years, so Lorraine is well-versed in the types of occurrences that can happen when a house is haunted. Wan passes off the case as a true story, though some detractors who don't believe in demons think that the haunting depicted in the film is all a hoax. Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes don't treat it as a hoax, and they depict Ed and Lorraine as a loving couple who believe in God and demons at the same time. While many horror films might treat paranormal investigators as stooges that are the butt of many jokes, the Warrens are treated with nothing but respect, which helps set the tone for the film.

The great thing about "The Conjuring" is that it doesn't matter whether viewers believe in ghosts in real life or not. The things that happen in the house are scary either way because Wan has built up so much tension that it can be cut with a knife. When that tension finally builds up to the climax of the film, it will scare even the most jaded of horror fans. The frights and chills come often in the second half of the film, but the first half wisely builds up the characters and lets the audience really get a feeling for who these people are. The audience quickly gets on the side of the Perron family and root for them to come out of this alive as they cover their eyes and wait for the next big scare.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5