Theatrical Review: The Conjuring

Ed and Lorraine Warren are investigators of the paranormal. Ed is a non-ordained demonologist and Lorraine is clairvoyant/empath. As the movie starts, they are detailing one of their cases in a college lecture hall and right from the start we’re buying everything that they’re telling us. In 1971, Ed and Lorraine encounter the Perron family little realizing the terror that they’re about to experience.

That’s the broad basic premise of The Conjuring the latest movie from director James Wan who’s best known for the very first Saw film. Wan’s next project is reportedly the next film in the Fast & Furious series but before he gets there, we get to experience The Conjuring a terrific little throwback horror film that really does stand above a lot of recent fare.

Before going into this, I was not aware that the events of this film were based on true events. Now there’s a terrific little crawl at the start of the film that tells us this and it’s great to set up what’s about to happen, but in my case, I figured the statement of being based around true events was the normal sort of hype that you get with this type of movie and maybe with just a little smattering of something that truly happened. Now after the fact, I still don’t know how much of this is true, but having done a little bit of post-research, it sounds like Wan got everything right about the Warrens and the Perrons (and it certainly helps that Lorraine Warren is actually credited as a consultant for the movie- though that can certainly be open to interpretation).

Wan takes his time in setting this one up and paces this similarly to such films as The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror (in fact, there’s a nice little suggestion by the film’s end that the Warrens are being called in to consult about that). It treats it’s subject matter most earnestly and doesn’t indulge in a plethora of skepticism. If anything, the Warrens themselves are the first to point out that many things they get called in to investigate can be easily explained as non-paranormal events, but yet they’ve still witnessed events that are classified as paranormal and thanks to the strong performances (more in a moment) we buy into this.

On the other side, we also buy into the Perron family right from the start. Carolyn and Roger Perron are a hard working family just trying to make ends meet for their family of five daughters. They’ve purchased their house through a state auction and after horrific events start to occur, they just can’t up and leave their home due to financial constraints more than anything else. Even before Carolyn goes to call in the Warrens, they’re willing to chalk up some of the weirdness they’ve encountered as things that can be easily explained, but eventually it becomes too much, and we as the audience certainly feel that.

The Conjuring doesn’t have an overuse of blood and gore and earns it’s R rating more for it’s intense situations. As I said above, Wan is pacing this like classic horror films from the 70s and the way this is executed, it certainly shows that there’s still a lot of gold to mine from that stye of filmmaking (Rob Zombie knows this as well and certainly demonstrated it well in The Lords of Salem from earlier this year, a movie that I didn’t have the time to review properly when it came out, but at least I wanted to shout it out here as it’s something I could certainly stand to watch as a double-bill with The Conjuring). Now there are certainly good visual effect moments here, but they’re used sparingly and Wan relies mostly on just good ol’ suspense-building and characters that you really do care about, though I have to also call out a terrific original score from Joseph Bishara that really does punctuate everything in the right way.

But Wan’s best tools in making this vision an effective one is his absolutely terrific cast. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play Ed and Lorraine and besides being a couple of my own personal favorite acting talents these days, they really do bring credibility to their parts and have a terrific chemistry together. As I said above, I really didn’t know this was based on true events at the start, and I was sort of looking at this thing as being the potential start of a new horror franchise with Wilson and Farmiga being the continuing players. Their chemistry is so good that I’d love to see them reprise these roles. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston play Carolyn and Roger Perron and again, like Wilson and Farmiga, they’ve got terrific chemistry together, though it’s certainly a more earthy flavor. Both of these sets of relationships feel very real and they’re aren’t over-dramatized in the slightest.

Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver are the five young actresses who play the Perron’s daughters and again, their relationship feels very authentic. Joey King really stood out to me amongst the daughters as Christine Perron with one particular scene where she experiences the horror from her bed.

The Conjuring is horror filmmaking at it’s best. James Wan certainly demonstrated with the first Saw movie that he could make a great horror film of a certain flavor. I thought he did a nice job with the movie Insidious (also with Patrick Wilson) as well, but The Conjuring is a real standout. Wan’s maturity as a filmmaker is certainly evident here and now I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does with the next chapter in the Fast & Furious series as he steps out of the horror/terror genre and into the action genre. Wan’s got a clear-cut vision with this throwback horror film and it’s excellently realized thanks to strong performances from a terrific cast. I really would like to see Wan, Wilson and Farmiga re-visit the Warrens with another movie and certainly the door is open for such a thing to happen. If you’re looking for a little break from summertime big-budget spectacles, well, it doesn’t get much better than The Conjuring. Highly, highly recommended…

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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