Now Playing: ‘Conjuring’ Up Some Scares

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had a really great and pure horror film, capable of producing genuine scares. ‘The Conjuring’ may just re-vitalize the genre this summer. Filmmaker James Wan brought us ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’, which both changed the horror genre when they were released. With this one, Wan set out to make an homage to the classic horror films of the ’60s and ’70s that relied on building tension and genuine scares rather than the CG effects and gore that we’ve come to expect out of most horror flicks these days. The results pack a punch that may scare up some box office dollars this weekend.

When directors pay homage to a genre, some get carried away and try to add too many of their favorite moments from other movies. We saw this happen recently with the sci-fi ‘Oblivion’. In ‘The Conjuring’, we get a mixed bag of ‘The Amityville Horror’, ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘The Exorcist’. While at times we can see direct correlations and rip-offs from each film, Wan does a good job of keeping things fresh and the scares moving fast. Although I don’t think you’ll be hiding under the sheets for weeks to come, this movie definitely produces some horrifying images.

The film is based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are most famous for their work with the Lutz family in Amityville, NY, which ‘The Amityville Horror’ was based on. In this one, they hear about strange occurrences with a family of seven at a rural farmhouse in Rhode Island. Before we jump into the main story, we get a scary-as-hell glimpse of what’s to come from a previous case that the Warrens worked on, involving one of the creepiest dolls ever put on film. The image of that doll will leave a lasting impression.

The setup is familiar enough as Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters move into their new big home in the middle of nowhere. Soon enough, the family members start to smell horrible odors, hear strange noises and see ghastly things. At first, only one at a time tends to see or hear these strange occurrences, which builds the tension as we progress through the story. They even play a game similar to Hide and Seek, called Hide and Clap, that involves a blindfold and is truly terrifying.

Once the hauntings get more severe, Roger and Carolyn enlist the help of the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) to help rid their house of whatever entity is in there. Ed is reluctant to accept the job at first since a previous case made a disturbing impression on his wife Lorraine, and she hasn’t been the same since. Eventually, they accept and head over to the Perrons’ house with cameras, holy water, crucifixes and UV lights. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that more than one force is in the house, including ghosts and demons. As we journey through the entire house of big rooms, closets and small passageways, we come to a chilling climax that involves an exorcism.

One of my biggest complaints is that the film steals too much from other horror movies, even the finest of details, which kind of takes you out of the moment. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it’s a bit distracting. Another problem is the abundance of daughters that the Perrons have. I know this is supposedly based on a true story, but in this adaptation, five daughters seem too much, as we don’t get to spend enough time with each of them and the movie has too much going on. Add to that the side story of the Warrens’ own daughter having issues, which doesn’t coincide with the main plot too well.

That being said, the film’s creepy atmosphere and its many scares outweigh the bad parts. Livingston, Wilson and Farmiga turn in great performances. They’re never over-the-top and seem very realistic. The one that really shines, though, is Lily Taylor. She gives a brilliant performance full of range and viciousness. With minimal CG effects, ‘The Conjuring’ is definitely the front-runner for the scariest film of the year so far.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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