By Laurie Coker
Everyone who knows me knows I am NOT a fan of horror films. Very few actually scare me and most just gross me out. Still, a friend of mine, who loves to hate horror, really wanted to see The Conjuring, starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, very loosely chronicles paranormal specialists Ed and Lorraine Warren (of the Amityville fame) as they try to rescue a family tormented by dark spirits haunting their home. Admittedly, the film never frightened me (although it did my friend and many in the audience), but it did completely engage and entertain!
Carolyn and Roger Perrone (Taylor and Livingston) and their five daughters – Andrea (Shanley Caswell), Nancy (Hayley McFarland), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy), and April (Kyla Deaver). – move into a rickety old home, all that the family can afford, with hopes of fixing it up. In spite of their financial issues, the family is close, fun-loving and happy. Until that is, unexplained things start to happen in the house and Carolyn fears for her daughters’ lives. Distraught Carolyn seeks the help of Ed and Lorraine, demonologists who travel all around the northeastern United States investigating suspected paranormal activity, respected by some, scoffed at by others. At first Ed tries to ignore Carolyn’s request, fearful for his clairvoyant wife, after a bad experience with a previous haunting/possession, but Lorraine insists. They enlist the aid of a grad student (Shannon Cook) and a cop (John Brotherton), the latter being a serious skeptic and all move into the house, where the family now resides together in one room. Immediately, Lorraine senses the evil, but still, the team sets up cameras and audio devices and work to find out about the history and the haunting.
Scare factor (or lack thereof for me) aside, this cast, this story and this film entertain from the moment the Perrone family pulls up to their new home. Director James Wan and screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes provide an intense urgency in almost every shot, and I sat mesmerized by it all. The Conjuring relies more on hair-lifting suspense than gore and blood, as is the case with too many in the genre. Disturbing hidden rooms, eerie specters, strange happenings make this R rated film less about grossing us out and far more about creeping us out.
Set in the 1970s the setting, costumes, hair styles and all else feels impressively authentic. Wilson and Farminga are perfection as the couple most know best because the Amityville Horror, a case that made them famous and garnered a great deal of attention – a book and movies. Ed and Lorraine are intelligent, grounded and serious specialists, who keep their cool when everyone else is in need of new underpants, and they exude professionalism and calm. It is because of Wilson and Farminga’s performances that I stayed wholly connected and completely absorbed. Fortunately, they play to an excellent ensemble cast. Taylor and Livingston manage manic fear that only parents can understand. Carolyn and Roger are stuck with a house that threatens the entire make up of their lives and family.
Wan knows how to film this kind of movie, and we are the luckier for it. He relies, not on boogiemen wielding chainsaws or meat hooks, but rather on intriguing and hair-raising camera shots, sound and movement. We get unique perspectives that draw us into the Perrones’ fears – eerie creaks, dim, damp, dusky rooms and While I said there was no blood or gore and virtually no body count, there are certainly some moments of vomit-evoking visuals. I felt my friend jump several times, so that must mean something. The youngsters in the cast, the Perrone girls, are excellent and aptly emote terror as necessary.
Wan had me – completely. Wilson is set to appear in a Wan directed sequel to Insidious (a film I did not like), and I plan on planting my bottom in a seat. The Conjuring is everything a film in this genre needs to be. I’m tired of terrorized and tortured teens and oodles and bucket blood. The Conjuring earns an A- from me. It didn’t scare me, but it did startle and surprise.