By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
If the names Ed and Lorraine Warren do not sound familiar, then perhaps one of their most famous cases will ring a bell. The Warrens are famous paranormal investigators best known for studying the events surrounding the Amityville haunting which thusly inspired the Amityville Horror book and movie. The Conjuring film, which serves as a prequel of sorts to their work in Amityville, covers an earlier investigation of a haunting in Harrisville, Rhode Island which has plagued the beleaguered Perron family.
The film introduces the fascinating couple that is the Warrens and gives audiences a glimpse into their work and methods in investigating paranormal activity. These real life ghost busters have spoken of and written about several of their experiences with ghosts and demons. Whether or not one actually believes in this phenomena, there can be no denying that their stories (whether fact or fiction) can make for some thrilling and frightening horror films. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) does just that in a film that delivers good on its promises to intrigue and frighten.
During the 1970s the Warrens had already built themselves a career based on educating on and investigating all matters paranormal. In 1971, Ed (Patrick Wilson), a demonologist, author and lecturer with his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), a clairvoyant, have chosen to mostly share their knowledge to empower those victimized, or believed to be victimized by ghosts and otherworldly creatures. Shortly after moving into an old Rhode Island farmhouse Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters begin to experience bizarre phenomena such as strange noises and ghosts, among other activity. When the family begins to feel that their lives are in danger, Carolyn seeks out the help of the Warrens who are reluctant to help at first, due to a bad experience involving an exorcism in their last major case.
Even though Wan and his writers Casey and Chad Hayes don’t really bring anything strikingly new or original to the horror genre, they do succeed in making a solid and effective haunting/possession film. The film does a fine job introducing the intriguing Warren characters and the sympathetic Perron family and builds up the tension and frights quite effectively. Wan never overindulges in jump scares, but uses them well in a few scenes. The film works beautifully on a more psychological level. I can honestly say that I sat entranced by the characters, story and scary activity taking place. I must tip my hat to Wan whose Insidious had nearly the opposite effect on me. There, he overindulged in loud noises, a loud invasive soundtrack, and jump scares galore which actually didn’t frighten me, but rather annoyed me. Wan has honed his technique and is working with a better script this time.
The climax of the film has its awesome moments, but some do feel a bit rehashed from loads of other horror films that have preceded it. Granted, it is difficult to outdo, match, and make breakthroughs in this genre without treading some familiar territory. Overall, I enjoyed the movie and felt that it could be the start of a fantastic new movie franchise. I’d hate to suggest another remake of the Amityville Horror, but perhaps the Hayes brothers can write another version of the story focusing more on the Warrens’ involvement.
The entire cast offers adequate performances with no real standouts. Patrick Wilson who portrays Ed Warren, credibly fills his role, but his take on Ed is more or less the usual everyman character he normally plays. He has a nice screen presence and is effective as a mild mannered, seemingly down-to-earth guy, but has yet to blow me away with any of his performances. Vera Farmiga fulfills her role in a similar way here. She has a natural charisma and lovely appearance, but doesn’t really take too many risks with this character. At the same time, I found it refreshing that these characters weren’t given the quirky and bizarre treatment that similar ones have typically gotten in horror. Thankfully, the filmmakers and actors chose not to embrace these character tropes.
Livingston, Taylor and the actresses who play their daughters also offer genuine and dimensional characters which work well to earn the care and sympathy they deserve and need from their audiences. The Perron family is your average working class family with sweet and adorable children. They just want a happy, quiet and normal existence and most people will be able to relate to that.
The film is Rated R for frightening and violent scenes, but I do not recall any strong language or strong sexual content. It definitely isn’t a movie for young children, but it never gets profane or raunchy as a lot of horror films often do. Non-horror fans probably won’t get much out of The Conjuring, but I do honestly believe that those who enjoy this kind of picture will appreciate what it has to offer.