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'The Conjuring' Movie Review

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By

'The Conjuring' movie poster.
© Warner Bros.
With his steady work over the past decade, director James Wan is firmly establishing himself as a modern master of horror cinema, but while his debut Saw helped establish the 21st century advent of "torture porn," his genre work since then -- Dead Silence, Insidious and now The Conjuring -- is firmly rooted in old school haunted house scares.

The Plot

In the fall of 1971, the Perron family -- truck driver Roger (Ron Livingston), homemaker Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters -- moves from New Jersey to an isolated lakeside house in the small town of Harrisville, Rhode Island. It's not long before they begin to have strange encounters in the home: their dog refuses to enter, doors open and close, pictures fall from the wall, the clocks stop at the same time every night. When actual physical contact is made, it becomes clear that there are entities inside their house that mean to do them harm.

Carolyn recruits the help of a renowned paranormal investigating team, husband and wife Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). Lorraine is a clairvoyant who immediately senses something evil. Ed, a demonologist, wants to have the home exorcised, but first they have to capture evidence to convince a priest to perform the ritual. The Warrens move in with the Perrons and set up a host of recording equipment, but the more they antagonize the presence, the more they put both families in danger.

The End Result

L-R: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston in 'The Conjuring'.

L-R: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston in 'The Conjuring'.

Photo by Michael Tackett © Warner Bros.
If Insidious was Wan's Poltergeist, then The Conjuring is his Amityville Horror. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the real-life Warrens also investigated the Amityville case a few years after this one.) It's a haunted house pic in the classic tradition of Amityville, The Haunting and The Innocents: a low-key fright flick focusing on atmosphere more than dazzling effects or blood 'n guts. It's the antithesis of Taylor's previous ghost story, 1999's soulless remake of The Haunting, which was all budget and CGI with no scares.

The script, from brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (House of Wax, The Reaping, Whiteout), is wonderfully paced, prepping us for the ghostly realm by opening with a more fun, but still creepy B-story about a haunted doll. The story knows how to get under your skin by setting up scenarios -- like the game of blindfolded hide and seek -- that make you wring your hands in angsty expectancy. Combined with Wan's penchant for framing scares, The Conjuring is almost too terrifying to bear at times, even if the the anticipation sometimes ends up being more frightening than the eventual reveal.

Compared to Insidious, the scares are perhaps not quite as memorable, but the story -- maybe because it was based on reality -- feels more heartfelt, particularly during the emotional climax. Joseph Bishara, who contributed the shrieking musical score for Insidious, returns with a similarly jarring score keeps you on edge. (Fun fact: he also plays the villainous entity in The Conjuring.) Personally, I think Insidious is a slightly more harrowing experience overall, but the difference in quality is negligible. You can't go wrong with either journey into the frightful beyond.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B (Strong performances across the board, with emotional opportunities for both families.)
  • Direction: A- (Wan delivers the atmospheric sundae with the scream-worthy cherry on top.)
  • Script: B (Full of terrifying alone-in-the-dark moments; solid character development but doesn't get bogged down in it.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (Minimal gore despite an R rating; good old-fashioned makeup effects and character design)
  • Overall: B (A spine-chilling old school ghost story.)
Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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