Review by Jeff Ames
There are scary movies, scarier movies, and then there's The Conjuring -- a freakish nightmare of a film that crawls under your skin and wiggles around until all sense of comfort seeps out of your body.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not the biggest horror movie fan. Most in the genre are either too gross, too predictable, or just plain cheesy to enjoy.
The Conjuring manages to be intense, creepy, and unerving -- sometimes at the same time -- and only loses focus when director James Wan reverts back to his goofy Saw-isms (look! freaky dolls!). Otherwise, it's a good old fashioned horror flick that carries the same weight (read: demonic) as Richard Donner's The Omen.
Based on true events about a family (headlined by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston, no less) undergoing a demonic posession of their home, The Conjuring builds its oft-used premise around real life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who swoop in to save the family from the clutches of an ancient spirit.
For the first hour, the film moves along like a distant cousin to Paranormal Activity. There are even moments captured on an old 1970's reel-to-reel camera, and subtle scares to be found such as the closing of doors or yanking of a foot that draw close comparisons to the low budget ghost fest.
Luckily, the comparisons stop there.
Rather then reserve himself to specific angles, Wan weaves his camera around the posessed home -- a star in its own right -- and utilizes clever lighting to draw a fair amount of jump scares during the character building moments (read: the boring parts).
Once the demonic beast rears its ugly head, however, all bets are off. The Conjuring climaxes with a whopper of a sequence that won't necessarily make you jump as much as seek shelter in a nearby church. It's freaky stuff, the kind that feels plausible enough to warrant the obligatory "True Story" moniker.
Wan resists any urges to go over the top -- the hokey green lighting FX are thankfully nowhere to be found -- revealing a much more reserved side to his craft than previously seen in the likes of Saw, Dead Silence, or even the overpraised Insidious. He knows the material on hand is good enough to speak for itself, and lets it do just that.
He gets help in the form of Wilson and Farmiga, two veteran actors who bring a sense of gravitas to tricky roles that might have drifted into hokum in lesser hands.
Taylor is effective as the grief-stricken mom, while Livingston does what he can in a limited role.
I still think Evil Dead takes top dollar as this year's freakiest horror flick, but that's not really a fair comparison. Where Evil Dead utilized over-the-top gore tactics to draw its shrieks, The Conjuring goes for something far more subtle and disturbing. Call it reality horror -- with an emphasis on the reality. Everything on screen feels plausible, and thus scarier.
And that ending hits all the right notes. I'm guessing you'll think twice about walking into a dark room after you've seen it.
"The Conjuring" movie trailer is property of Warner Bros. pictures and is used for promotional purposes only.