Capone is haunted by the powerful performances and strong writing that propel THE CONJURING!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Why has no one turned the paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren into a television series, preferably on cable, so things can get really scary if they need to (for whatever weird reason, THE CONJURING is R rated, just for being that scary, I suppose since there's no blood, nudity, swearing, drug use or even smoking)? This couple went into the Amityville house, and they were (Ed died some years ago) considered the nation's pre-eminent folks in their field for decades. Usually they were disproving or debunking an occurrence, but every so often, they'd hit upon something unexplained that only they were qualified to investigate and deal with. THE CONJURING is an account of one such case, and it will likely be the most scared you will be in a movie theater this year.
The Warrens were called to visit a house in Harrisville, RI, recently purchased at auction (so the details of the home's past were not revealed to the buyers) by the Perron family, consisting of father Roger (Ron Livingston), mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor, reminding us what an acting goddess she is), and their four daughters. The symptoms of a troubled house come, at first, in the form of moving objects, doors opening and closing, strange noises, even a few blurry sightings in mirrors.
Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes do a nice job building suspense rather than tossing the big scares at us right off the bat; true modern horror master, director James Wan (the original SAW, INSIDIOUS, DEAD SILENCE), quite simply has his pulse on what makes people scared, and he rarely uses cheap tricks to make us squirm in anticipation or jump out of our seats.
Outside of its smart script, the real key to the success of THE CONJURING is this great group of actors, including Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens, who live with their young daughter Judy (Sterling Jerins) in a house that includes a room devoted to possessed or otherwise creepy trinkets from all of their cases, including the notorious Annabelle doll (a Raggedy Ann doll in real life, but not in this film), which is said to be possessed and unnecessarily factors into this story.
Taylor's performance as the devoted mother Carolyn is so good in this film, especially as a particularly nasty force that haunts her house (one of many ghosts in the dwelling, but the only one that is dangerous) slowly begins to corrupt her. There are times when Taylor is called upon to unleash in a way I've never seen her do, and she's so convincing that it genuinely freaked me out.
I was also quite moved by Farmiga's take on the spiritually tuned-in Lorraine, whose most recent encounter with a possessed person left her somewhat fragile and damaged; Ed is a constant protective force in her life, and barely allows her to take part in the Perron's once they figure out what they're dealing with. But the Warrens are good, God-fearing people who understand that they must use their abilities to help others the same way they themselves would want to be helped if the tables were turned.
Through good old-fashioned library research, the Warrens unlock the events that took place in the Perron home since the 1800s that have led to these spiritual issues. As ghostly and frightening as things might get, THE CONJURING attempts to stay low key and practical when it comes to the way the hauntings manifest themselves. Director Wan knows that the more rooted in reality the scares are, the more we'll have trouble sleeping at home that night; what a bastard. And for the record, Wan will make you petrified to walk into your unfinished basement for the rest of your life.
Much like his last film Insidious, THE CONJURING isn't just a solid scare movie; it's a genuinely fine film in any genre. And the power of great actors adds a layer of heart and empathy to the characters that actually makes us care about what happens to these poor people. Why don't more people who make horror films get that? Having your lead characters be simply young and good looking isn't enough; usually characters like that are portrayed as assholes, and we root for them to die, thus eliminating almost all of the suspense from the equation. But when we like and feel for the characters, we see ourselves in their situation and how horrible it would be to have our lives derailed in such a way. It ups the ante, and gives us so much to be scared about.
I hope now that Wan is moving on to direct the next chapter in the FAST & FURIOUS series, he doesn't leave horror behind him just when he's getting so damn consistent. So if you don't have an aversion to being scared, THE CONJURING is your only choice this weekend.
-- Steve Prokopy
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