The “Paranormal Activity” series took the found-footage genre to a new level of chillers, but it also revived the good old haunted house scare-fest. “The Conjuring,” the latest in this subdivision of horror, was a bit of a surprise, outdrawing other higher-profile movies in its opening week, but it proved people still love to sit in a theater and get scared.
“The Conjuring” has ties to “The Amityville Horror” in that both movies are based on true events of hauntings that were investigated by the famous ghost-hunter couple Ed and Lorraine Warren. Unlike “Amityville,” however, “Conjuring” focuses much of its attention on the Warrens, who were ground-breakers in using technology to gather evidence of the paranormal.
“The Conjuring” takes place in late 1971 when a family, the Perrons, move into a remote old house in Rhode Island. The residence definitely is a fixer-upper, but the Perrons, Roger and Carolyn, and their five daughters, soon discover this place has a lot of eerie baggage also attached to it.
Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor play Roger and Carolyn, who put almost all their assets into the house, thus requiring a major commitment. Youngest daughter April (Kyla Deaver) finds an old music box that has an aura of creepiness like a clown doll and soon the little girl is having conversations with an invisible friend named Rory. Carolyn has unexplained bruises on her body and at night another daughter, Christine (Joey King from “Oz the Great and Powerful”), is awakened when somebody or something grabs her feet.
Per usual, the bumps and creaks escalate into truly terrifying incidents and a desperate Carolyn attends a lecture by the Warrens and pleads with them to investigate whatever is going on. Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) is at first reluctant to take on the case, but Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), who is a clairvoyant, insists they go to the house.
Lorraine, still shaky from a previous possession case that left her catatonic for eight days, immediately senses that horrible things happened not just in the house but nearby. The Warrens soon learn that a witch named Bathsheba Sherman hanged herself from a tree outside the house and her hateful soul still lingers and has wreaked previous havoc. All of this has unsettling overtones of demonic shenanigans.
“The Conjuring,” written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hays (“The Reaping” and “House of Wax”) and directed by James Wan (“Saw” and “Insidious”) is an effective and spooky movie. There are plenty of moments that have audiences jumping and screaming, and on an emotional level it really sinks into the viewer. Roger and Carolyn are a devoted couple and loving parents and the daughters are generally sweet, although the oldest, Andrea (Shanley Caswell) is at first pouty about moving to such an out-of-the-way place. The other two daughters, Nancy and Cindy, are played by Haley McFarland and Mackenzie Foy, respectively.
Wilson and Farmiga present the Warrens as a couple who were destined to be together and use their unique gifts. Their interaction with the Perrons also shows a strong emotional link.
The movie does date itself with all the equipment employed by the Warrens that at the time was cutting-edge but looks clunky when compared with today’s surveillance technology.
The makers of this movie were adamant about making “The Conjuring” as authentic as possible. Lorraine Warren served as a consultant on the film — Ed died in 2006. The real Perron girls visited the set during the filming, and the Bathsheba ghost, played by Joseph Bishara (who also composed the movie’s score) was so unnerving that Cindy fled the set and soon departed.
Fans of such creepy movies should enjoy “The Conjuring.” It has all the tools — the old, creaky house, the isolation, a violent past that just will not go away, and enough frightening moments to keep the viewers on edge. And all of this is supported by a likable, sympathy-generating cast.