Genre: Horror, Thriller | Run Time: 112 min | Rated: R
Director: James Wan | Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston
By: George Wolf
Welcome to 1971, the year the Perron family took one step inside their new home and screamed with horror, â€śMy God, this wallpaper is hideous!â€ť
Seriously, it often surprises me that civilization made it through the Seventies. Must every surface and ream of fabric be patterned? Still, the Perrons found survival tougher than most.
The farmhouseâ€™s previous residents may be dead, but they havenâ€™t left, and they are testy! So the Perrons have no choice but to look up paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren â€“ the real life couple linked to many famous American hauntings, including one in Amityville, NY. The Conjuring is allegedly based on one of the coupleâ€™s cases.
Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But donâ€™t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.
Wan cut his teeth â€“ and Cary Elwesâ€™s bones â€“ with 2004â€™s corporeal horror Saw. Heâ€™s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.
Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.
But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors donâ€™t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.
A game cast helps. Joining five believably terrified girls in solid performances are Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and the surprisingly well-suited Ron Livingston as the helpless patriarch. The usually sublime Lili Taylor is uncharacteristically flat as the clanâ€™s loving mother, unfortunately, but thereâ€™s more than enough to distract you from that.
Wanâ€™s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while youâ€™re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, youâ€™ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.
Read more reviews by George Wolf.