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Summer 2013 Movies: The Conjuring

Summer 2013 Movies: The Conjuring
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BY ALISON BAILES

There is nothing in this familiar, but effective horror film that you haven’t seen before. It’s set in a secluded, creaky, old farmhouse. There is a boarded-up cellar full of cobwebby old furniture. Dogs bark at the house and refuse to enter. Doors creak open and slam shut of their own accord. Clocks stop. And a strange smell permeates the house at night. There’s even an All-American family, with five movie-chic daughters, that moves into this house unaware of its dark, murderous history.

Sounds like a whole bunch of horror flick cliches doesn’t it? Well, director James Wan, who is responsible for the “Saw” franchise as well as 2010’s “Insidious” know his genre tropes. But he uses them here to tremendous effect. There may be no such thing as a new idea in Hollywood, but there’s nothing wrong with an old idea done well.

It’s also based on a true story that adds an extra frisson of excitement. In 1971 the Perron family, Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters move into a large, rambling, run-down house in bucolic Harrisville, Rhode Island. Soon after, strange things start happening. The girls are being yanked at in their sleep, strange bruises appear all over Carolyn’s body and things go bump in the night. Carolyn seeks the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The Warrens would go on to be famous for investigating the infamous Amityville haunted house. But this story happened first. Apparently it was deemed too terrifying to tell. Until now.
When Lorraine, a self-professed clairvoyant enters the Perron’s home she immediately senses a presence. The Warrens seek to convince the Vatican to send a priest to perform an exorcism. But things careen out of control before they even have film evidence to show the Church and Ed and Lorraine must battle the demonic forces on their own. At this point, the more jaded cinema-goers among us might sigh or smirk with knowing weariness as the Warrens discover a history of a suicidal, infant-sacrificing Salem witch who inhabited the house in the 1800s. Numerous other people died on the premises in strange circumstances. Basically the Perron’s house might as well have been built on an Indian burial ground.

But cliches aside, Wan really knows how to build up suspense with crafty use of sound effects and the spooky score. The prologue, featuring a possessed doll, is truly disturbing. A music box that plays plaintive music is chilling. And peppering the film with talent such as Taylor and Farmiga is a smart move; they both bring depth to roles that could easily have been one-note. Wilson, who will also appear in Wan’s “Insidious 2”, is a steady, rational presence among the shrieking and wailing.

“The Conjuring”, whose title does it little service, will remind you of all that has gone before: “Poltergeist”, “Amityville Horror”, “The Exorcist”. If you’re looking for novelty, then this is not the film for you. If you’re looking to watch through sweaty fingers while cowering in your seat, then line right on up!

 

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