For the record: The night following last Monday evening’s screening of “The Conjuring,” I lay awake for hours, wondering if some ghastly presence was going to grab my feet. Admittedly I’m a horror-movie weenie, but I bet I wasn’t the only one. James Wan’s haunted-house saga is well-crafted, convincingly acted, surprisingly restrained and scary as hell.
Though Wan’s well-known for creating the ultraviolent “Saw” franchise, “The Conjuring” is something else (as was his 2011 film “Insidious”): an old-school “Amityville-Horror”-meets-“The-Exorcist” horror flick that mostly finds its scares in what we don’t see — or, when it shows us something terrifying, does so as quickly as a shiver. It’s based on the real-life tale of the Perron family — dad Roger (Ron Livingston), mom Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters — who in the early ’70s moved into a remote old farmhouse in Harrisville, R.I. Things are strange from the beginning: The family dog won’t enter the house, doors open and shut on their own, portraits jump off the walls, chills and strange odors pervade the atmosphere, and little April, the youngest child, is soon talking about a new friend — a ghostly boy who plays with her when she’s alone.
Shaken, the family calls in demonologists/ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), and before you can say “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” … well, you’ll likely be too scared to say anything much, as the house is investigated and the spirits possessing it become angrier.
Wan takes his time with the scares, knowing that it’s more frightening to hear a terrified child sob in the dark “There’s a man standing right there!” than it is to see the man. The casting is strong — particularly Livingston and Taylor, whose real-person ease makes us immediately feel connected to them, and Farmiga, who’s got an uncanny way of seeming utterly haunted and yet serene. And there’s a doll with a terrifying grimace, as there must always be in such movies, and when she returns late in the film, as she always must, I wrote “Oh no” in my notes, and … let’s just say I need a screwball-comedy fix, right away. “The Conjuring” is an impressive piece of work, and maybe not for weenies.
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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org