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The Conjuring
Based on a true story, this horrifying tale follows world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

 

Genres: Horror
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
Release Date: July 19, 2013
MPAA Rating: R (for Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.)
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution

Cast And Credits
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Shanley Caswell
Directed by: James Wan
Produced by: Peter Safran, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Rob Cowan

The dread gathers and surges while the blood scarcely trickles in “The Conjuring,” a fantastically effective haunted-house movie. Set largely in 1971, it purports to tell a story based on “true case files” about a family of seven whose pastoral dream became a nightmare soon after they moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse. One day, Mom, Dad and the girls are settling into their conveniently sprawling, creaking, squeaking two-story house â€" the rooms quickly become a disorienting maze â€" and the next, they’re playing hide and creep with a mysterious, increasingly malevolent force.


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The director James Wan plays much the same game with you. Written by the brothers Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes, the movie opens with a jittery, funny prologue involving a couple of pretty nurses right out of a Roger Corman quickie, a devil doll named Annabelle (shades of Rod Serling and Chucky) and a pair of married paranormal experts, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The Warrens quickly take care of business, and Mr. Wan does the same. With shock cuts, gliding camera movements, muted colors that evoke David Fincher’s “Zodiac” and tricks learned from “The Twilight Zone,” Mr. Wan â€" whose first sly shot is of a cracked, smiling face â€" sets a relentlessly uneasy tone that imperceptively shifts between intense seriousness and lightly mocking.

The real Ed and Lorraine Warren, lifelong investigators of the paranormal â€" their Web site calls him a demonologist and her a trance medium â€" established the grandly named New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 but are most famous for their exploits in another house, in Amityville, on Long Island. (Mr. Warren died in 2006; Ms. Warren was a consultant on “The Conjuring.”) The Warrens declared that Dutch Colonial demonic, a diagnosis that led to more than a dozen “Amityville” movies and stoked the market for haunted-house tales. What happened when the Warrens entered the Rhode Island home in “The Conjuring” hasn’t received the same attention, although one of the daughters, Andrea Perron, has published a memoir.

The movie takes off with Carolyn (an excellent Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston, very good), moving their family into their new home. He’s a truck driver, while she runs the house and five girls ranging from preschool age to high school. They’re appealingly real, with an easy intimacy that’s strikingly different from the canned version briefly seen in a clip from “The Brady Bunch.” The only perceptible crack in the facade is that they’re struggling financially, a fissure suggested by Carolyn’s quietly tense demeanor, Roger’s knotted forehead and the house’s smudged, unpainted walls. Once they move in, they can’t move out, a bad situation that speaks as much to today as to the story’s inflation-plagued period. Things are rocky even before they go bump in the night.



When Mr. Wan lingers on Carolyn’s crumbling smile it’s obvious that it isn’t only the Perron house that’s troubled. It’s been estimated that 75 percent of Americans believe in the paranormal, while only 54 percent believe global warming has begun. Evidently it’s easier to believe in the terrors that can’t hurt us than to believe in those that can, which may partly account for why so many vampires, zombies and their paranormal ilk are running amok in the popular imagination. Each era brings its own allegorical terrors, and in the 1970s, a golden age of horror cinema, the aftershocks of the 1960s found expression in stories about diabolically terrifying spawn who, with their swiveling heads and annihilating violence, were grotesque embodiments of a generational anxiety.

“The Conjuring” isn’t just primarily set in the 1970s, it also taps into the paranoia that is both an evergreen American trait and a crucial characteristic of films of that era, horror and otherwise. With amusing self-awareness, Mr. Wan (his earlier movies include “Saw” and “Insidious”) leans on the usual genre tricks throughout, making you jump with hard edits and doors being squeaked open by unseen hands. But he also makes intelligent use of narrative delay and ellipses that help build suspense and suspicion. The script generally doesn’t overexplain, and neither does he. When things start going wrong at the Perrons’ â€" a bird crashes into the house, bruises bloom on Carolyn’s body â€" the family knows something’s amiss but can’t read the signs. The deeply religious Warrens (Lorraine wraps rosary beads around one hand) think that they can, and do.

Mr. Wilson makes Ed an appealing, somewhat ridiculous square, which fits nicely with Ms. Farmiga’s unsmiling intensity and undercurrents of fragility. Their characters are as appealing as the Perrons, but Mr. Wan smartly keeps enough distance from the Warrens that you can see that these true believers are also hovering at the edge of dangerous fanaticism. That gives the movie a shiver of political currency even if a greater, more sustaining pleasure of this particular haunted-house fantasy is how it works as a metaphor for moviegoing itself. When the Perrons first settle into their house, they’re facing the future with bright, anxious smiles that aren’t much different from those of the horror-film faithful who are waiting nervously, hopefully, to be jolted by the next great shocker. It’s here.

 

 
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