The Conjuring (2013)

“During the last 20 minutes of ‘The Conjuring’ you might find yourself laughing occasionally—because that’s better than the alternative!”The Phantom of the Ville

James Wan’sThe Conjuring” is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. I just want to get that out of the way first. As a modern horror director, Wan has been on a pretty good winning streak, delivering “Saw” (2004), “Dead Silence” (2007) and “Insidious” (2010) in succession before unleashing this instant classic of the haunted house/demonic possession genre.

This type of spook house thriller has seen a lot of mileage in recent years, but rarely have all the elements of the classic ghost story and the modern demonic possession shocker come together with this kind of impact. Everyone who makes one of these films is chasing “The Exorcist,” but I believe that with “The Conjuring,” James Wan has come the closest to actually catching it.

The film opens with an iconic titles sequence, something most modern directors often skip to get the film moving faster. Next comes one of the hoariest of horror movie clichés as we’re told in BOLD print that this is “Based on a True Story,” except in this case it’s actually true. Or at least the story is based on the events as told by people who actually do exist.

We’re introduced to real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson (“Insidious”) and Vera Farmiga (A&E’s Bates Motel”), who have spent years investigating hauntings and demonic phenomenon. They’ve helped many frightened folks either by debunking cases mistaken for supernatural infestation or by helping to exorcise the spirits of those really plagued by malevolent forces. The Warrens are most famous for their association with the Amityville haunting case, and as played by Farmiga, Lorraine Warren is a clairvoyant who pays a high psychological toll when confronting evil from beyond the grave.

Ron Livingston (“Office Space”) and Lili Taylor (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) play Roger and Carolyn Perron, parents who have just moved into an old farmhouse in the country with their five young daughters. It’s especially rewarding to see Taylor appear in one of the best films in the haunted house genre since she previously suffered the indignity of starring in one of the worst, Jan de Bont’s tragic and misguided remake of “The Haunting” (1999).

The Perrons start experiencing strange phenomenon almost immediately. Their dog refuses to go inside the house. Their youngest daughter talks to an imaginary friend. All the clocks stop every night at seven minutes after three. Soon it gets worse. Much, much worse. As a last resort, Carolyn seeks the aid of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Ed is leery about letting his wife get involved in another possible demonic case, but she insists on coming along. They bring in another couple of investigators to record the evidence in case they need proof to get the Vatican’s approval for an exorcism.

There are scenes that recall “Poltergeist,” “The Amityville Horror,” “The Exorcist” and several other classic supernatural thrillers, but nothing feels stale or stolen. If I were to find something to criticize, it might be that Wan goes for perhaps too many jump scares. Most of them have the intended effect, a couple even made the hairs on my neck stand up, but a few too many loud noises on the soundtrack started to dull the edge of the scares at about the hour and fifteen minute mark.

Thankfully, that’s about when all Hell breaks loose. I’m not about to spoil the nature of the evil that the Warrens find in that farmhouse, but when tension reaches the breaking point, “The Conjuring” starts breaking stuff! During the last 20 minutes of the film, you may find yourself nervously giggling, laughing even at points, because that’s better than the alternative! The audience I saw it with giggled and screamed with equal measure during the insanity inflicted upon both the characters and the audience in one of the most satisfying and cathartic climaxes in recent horror film history.

While not exactly reinventing the wheel, “The Conjuring” at least offers the best steel belted radial tires around. The 1971 period setting gives the film the freedom to present the supernatural without having to deal with cell phones, laptops, digital cameras or any other modern devices that modern horror scripts are forced to include. With a tight script, good performances and an efficient runtime that doesn’t overstay its welcome, this film delivers on its basic promise: to scare the Hell out of its audience.

The Phantom of The Ville

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