BLOGS

Movies Without Pity
<i>The Conjuring</i>: Nice House, Shame About the Ghost

Since bursting into the business with the first Saw movie back in 2004, it almost feels as if every horror movie James Wan has made since functions as, in one way or another, an apology for kick-starting the franchise that’s become synonymous with torture porn. 2007's Dead Silence, for example, was a mostly gore-free ghost story where the boogeyman was a squad of possesses ventriloquists dolls, while 2010's Insidious channeled the spooky '80s favorite Poltergeist in its depiction of a young child seduced by forces from the other side. (That low-budget chiller performed so well, a sequel -- also directed by Wan -- is due out in September.) And now here comes The Conjuring, which is essentially Wan's unofficial remake of the 1979 hit The Amityville Horror. Like that earlier film, it takes place in a seemingly picturesque homestead that's revealed to be a hotbed of such paranormal activity as clocks stopping at an appointed time in the dead of night (3:07 AM to be exact, a mere eight minutes before James Brolin always felt compelled to head out to the boathouse), strange noises in empty rooms and freaky spirits who pop up out of the woodwork at inopportune, yet perfectly timed, moments. The Conjuring, though, happens to be the best Amityville Horror movie ever made, leaving the original and its many sequels, reboots and imitators in the dust.

Let's be clear: I'm not about to single out The Conjuring as a genre classic, a status that the '79 Amityville movie has undeservedly attained due to its initial popularity and brand name longevity. But it is an extremely well-crafted piece of mainstream horror that offers a number of genuine scares and shows just how far Wan has come has a director. Inspired by the careers of two real-life paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the film -- which was written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes -- is based on a case from the duo's files. In 1970, the Perron family -- which includes long distance trucker Roger (Ron Livingstone), homemaker Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters, one of whom wrote a book about her family's experiences -- move into a rustic Rhode Island farmhouse that they've scrimped and saved to afford.

Although the home is supposed to represent a new start for the clan, their life there doesn't get off to the most auspicious start when the family dog winds up dead the morning after they move in. A cascade of other horrors befall them in the days and weeks ahead, driving Carolyn to track down the Warrens and plead with them to put their ghost sleuthing skills to work. As soon as they cross the threshold, the couple deduces that the Perrons aren't just imagining things: a dark spirit is indeed sharing their domicile and, worse still, it'll follow them wherever they go next because… well, just because, okay? (C'mon, they gotta have a reason to stick around.) Anyway, the Warrens decide that the only viable solution is an exorcism, which means they'll need to collect evidence of a haunting. That leads into the extended third act, where the haunters go on the offensive while the hauntees shriek, scream and levitate in chairs.

The key to any successful haunted house movie -- and it's a key that more films of this type forget about than you'd might expect -- is treating the house itself like an actual character in the film, one with its own distinct personality and physical characteristics. Too often, the setting just becomes an anonymous stage on which scary stuff happens. But Wan thankfully takes his time establishing the geography of the Perron home, ingeniously hitting upon a family game -- "Hide and Clap" where a blindfolded seeker has to find hiders relying only on the sound of their claps -- as a way of exploring the space from the second floor to the boarded-up basement. (This game also sets up one of the movie's single best "Boo!" moments that will almost certainly cause whatever theater you happen to be in to erupt with the sound of screams. In that respect, The Conjuring is probably one of this summer's most enjoyable movies to see with a big audience.) Shooting with a wide-angle lens, Wan creates an environment where something dark and sinister constantly seems to be hovering around the edges of the frame. The actors -- Taylor in particular -- do their own part to heighten the tension, playing the drama of the situation with more conviction than is typical for a genre programmer. And if the pace is occasionally on the pokey side (there's an extended subplot that involves the spirit invading the Warrens's own home turf that could easily have been cut out), it's nice to see a horror movie that leaves breathing room in between its scares instead of rushing from jolt to jolt. If The Conjuring is representative of the kinds of movies Wan intends to make going forward, than consider himself forgiven for unleashing Jigsaw upon the world.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

Keep up with Movies Without Pity on Facebook and Tumblr

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

Comments

SHARE THE SNARK

X

Get the most of your experience.
Share the Snark!

See content relevant to you based on what your friends are reading and watching.

Share your activity with your friends to Facebook's News Feed, Timeline and Ticker.

Stay in Control: Delete any item from your activity that you choose not to share.

MOST RECENT POSTS

BLOG ARCHIVES

Movies Without Pity

March 2014

16 ENTRIES

February 2014

22 ENTRIES

January 2014

21 ENTRIES

December 2013

25 ENTRIES

November 2013

21 ENTRIES

October 2013

26 ENTRIES

September 2013

16 ENTRIES

August 2013

22 ENTRIES

July 2013

22 ENTRIES

June 2013

21 ENTRIES

May 2013

22 ENTRIES

April 2013

19 ENTRIES

March 2013

28 ENTRIES

February 2013

16 ENTRIES

January 2013

16 ENTRIES

December 2012

21 ENTRIES

November 2012

19 ENTRIES

October 2012

20 ENTRIES

September 2012

19 ENTRIES

August 2012

19 ENTRIES

July 2012

17 ENTRIES

June 2012

24 ENTRIES

May 2012

21 ENTRIES

April 2012

22 ENTRIES

March 2012

26 ENTRIES

February 2012

25 ENTRIES

January 2012

25 ENTRIES

The Latest Activity On TwOP