I love a good supernatural thriller, with lots of atmosphere and suggestions of dark, dangerous spirits. The Conjuring indeed gives me these very things, though not unexpectedly, in the last third of the film, the suggestions give way to pretty graphic demonic horror stuff. That turned out to be okay with me, though I definitely preferred its more subtle moments, as these make me far more uneasy than the hollering, flying, crashing, and roaring that typically accompany demons from hell these days.
The story is very much a straightforward haunted house/demon possession tale, all of which we've seen before — more often than not, done badly, which I can happily say is not the case here. Roger and Carolyn Perron, played by Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers, The Time Traveler's Wife) and Lili Taylor (The Haunting , Mystic Pizza), along with their five daughters, move into a remote, dilapidated farmhouse, in which inexplicable and increasingly frightening incidents occur. When there appears to be no explanation for these other than the supernatural, the Perrons turn to paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who confirm that this family is, indeed, in a heap of supernatural trouble. The property has been cursed by a witch, and as a result, over the years, the house has accumulated more than its share of angry dead. Spiritual warfare ensues, at times quite noisily and, in the end, with fairly substantial property damage.
To this film's credit, even the over-the-top stuff is entertaining, and in a couple of cases, damn near unnerving. As the story unfolded, I noticed an intriguing similarity to a 1991 TV movie called The Haunted, which starred noted character actor Jeffrey DeMunn and Sally Kirkland as haunted couple Jack and Janet Smurl. I gave The Haunted a glance on the interwebs, and — sure enough — that movie also featured the real-life husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played in that film by Stephen Markle and Diane Baker). The Warrens had most famously investigated the infamous Amityville horror, as well as something in the neighborhood of 10,000 cases of reported supernatural activity (only a handful of which they claimed were authentic). Not being a believer in such things, I can't speak to their actual exploits, but in this film, as well as in The Haunted, I found them to be believable, reasonably endearing characters. Overall, the acting in The Conjuring is quite convincing, with special notice given to the five Perron family children (played by Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver), all of whom were remarkably good for their ages.
The Conjuring does feature one of the scariest dolls I've seen since Talking Tina in The Twilight Zone. Annabelle is her name, and scaring the brown poop out of you is her game. Virtually all the props in the movie are rendered to be creepy, down to the clocks stopping at precisely 3:07 a.m. and a big old tree that easily beats the one in Poltergeist for unnerving design (I'd love to hunt a geocache in a such a tree).
If you're a believer in paranormal activity, I imagine this movie might actually have the capacity to disturb you on a relatively deep level. As outright entertainment — despite its overly familiar plot — with its decent acting, atmospheric visuals, and ugly supernatural entities, I think The Conjuring succeeds pretty damn well. Four out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
|Lili Taylor, as Carolyn Perron, gets the clap.|
|Little girl needs a hand; ghostly apparition obliges.|
|It's a nice enough wardrobe, but I gotta tell you, that ain't Narnia on the other side.|
|"Hello, my name is Annabelle, and I don't like you. Not one wee tiny bit."|