A family terrorized by supernatural forces. A pair of intrepid ghost hunters called upon to help. Is this the latest entry in the Paranormal Activity series? No, it’s director James Wan’s fact-based horror film The Conjuring. The story involves the 1971 case of the Perron family, who moves to a home in Rhode Island, and are besieged by banging noises, ghostly visitations, and odd happenings. The family requests the aid of supernatural investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren, who try to help them figure out the strange events. The dark forces escalate their attack; the demon at the center of the haunting concentrates its attention on the family’s mother. As they brace for a fight and possible exorcism, The Warrens must come to terms with their own past, haunted by echoes of their previous battles with the supernatural.
Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga portray the real life demonologists. The Warrens were investigating hauntings long before the current proliferation of “ghost hunter” shows on television. They consulted on the Amityville Horror case, among others. I attended a lecture by the duo in the 1990s, and found their stories fascinating; if one-tenth of what they spoke about was true, there are some very scary things out there in the darkness. Wilson & Farmiga capture their essence well, with Farmiga especially good as Lorraine. Lili Taylor turns in a powerful performance as the Mom who struggles to deal with the terrible things happening to her family. One of the reasons the film is so effective is we care about these people, and feel a real sense of empathy for them.
Director Wan creates an excellent sense of dread, suspense and terror without resorting to blood & gore. There are a couple of bravura sequences that are really effective. While there are some “jump” moments, they aren’t what make the film really scary. It’s the mood, the sense of unease & dread throughout. No wonder the ratings board gave the film an R rating: not for language or violence but because it was so unsettling & creepy. Wan previously proved he could pull off old school horror with 2011’s Insidious (also starring Wilson), and a sequel to that film is due this fall. There are no easy answers or explanations here, but whatever you think about the existence of the supernatural, this is an effective, well-acted film that’s worth your time. You'll really enjoy it if you're a fam of well-crafted horror films. The Conjuring is currently in theaters: here’s a link to the film’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k10ETZ41q5o.