The Conjuring
dir James Wan
scr Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
prd Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran
with Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Sterling Jerins, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton
release US 19.Jul.13, UK 2.Aug.13
13/US Warner 1h52
The Conjuring
Who you gonna call? Wilson and Farmiga

taylor livingston foy

edinburgh film fest

See also:
The Conjuring 2 (2016) The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
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The Conjuring Wilson reteams with Insidious director Wan for another tale of demonic possession. It's slickly well-made and extremely unsettling, but its claims to be based on a true story are undermined by clearly fictitious plot elements. And in the end the haunted-house cliches overpower any sense of realism.

In 1971 Rhode Island, the Perron family has moved into a new home. But Carolyn (Taylor) has strange bruises and freaky dreams that Roger (Livingston) can't explain, while their five daughters (Caswell, McFarland, King, Foy and Deaver) are having all kinds of terrors in the middle of the night. As the noises get louder and the strangeness gets more invasive, they contact Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga), experts in hauntings and possessions who set out to get concrete proof of what's happening in the Perrons' home.

While the plot has a fairly straightforward investigative structure, the film is still a traditional horror movie. Wan is terrific as luring us into false security with meandering takes that quietly crank up the possibility of something nasty before dropping a witty hint then clubbing us over the head. It helps that the actors all play it without irony, as true believers who are genuinely horrified. Wilson and Farmiga are particularly good at this, which helps us suspend our disbelief.

On the other hand, Taylor is put through the wringer as the frazzled wife and mother who has the closest encounter with the angry demon. As always, she dives in headlong, complete with freak-out makeup, a skanky wig and the ubiquitous nasty nightgown. But it's the smaller touches that chill us to the bone, as she watches the effects on her five daughters. And Ed and Lorraine's daughter Judy (Jerins) gets in on it too.

Wan assuredly throws us right in the middle of the mayhem. He also refreshingly never tries to keep too straight a face, poking fun at the genre with witty iconography (an evil-looking doll, a sinister-sounding music box) and the careful deployment of a ridiculous close-up or a creaky pause to both build and deflate tension. But there isn't much that we haven't seen before, so the movie is enjoyably unsettling but never truly terrifying. Clearly it's time for someone to redefine the language of horror movies again.

cert 15 themes, violence 15.Jul.13

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