Anyone who ever suffered a childhood fear of the dark — when they could swear there was a hulking form in that dark corner behind the half-open bedroom door, or knew with a dread certainty that there was a monster ready to leap out of the closet at any moment or crawl out from under the bed — is liable to experience a serious
relapse after sitting through “The Conjuring.”
This gripping little yarn of ghost-hunting and demonic possession has all of these scares and more, and executes them quite effectively thanks to the practiced hand of director James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”), a tightly-wound script by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (“The Reaping”) and a superb cast headed by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air,” TV’s “Bates Motel”) and Patrick Wilson (“Insidious”).
And the claim that it’s all based on actual events makes it all the more creepy for those horror buffs willing to buy into it.
The story is supposedly taken from the files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga), focusing on a 1970 case in which they were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded, centuries-old farmhouse in rural Rhode Island.
Ed is a noted demonologist, author and lecturer, and his wife, Lorraine, is a professed clairvoyant and medium who has worked closely with her husband for decades. They are pioneers of scientific paranormal investigation, among the first to employ film and audio tape in gathering evidence of ghostly phenomena and “presences.”
The new residents of the house are Roger and Carolyn Perron (played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters, all of whom are at first delighted with peace and beauty of country living — until a series of strange occurrences begins. Whispers are heard during the night, then footsteps. There’s a growing feeling of another presence in the house. Covers are pulled from the children’s beds while they’re sleeping. Carolyn awakens with new bruises each morning on her arms and legs, with no idea how they were inflicted.
A hidden basement is discovered, containing evidence that something horrible may have happened here many years ago, leaving an evil, invisible stain. Then the incidents escalate from disturbing to terrifying when family members are subjected to physical harm.
Carolyn seeks out the help of the Warrens after local law enforcement fails to turn up anything, and Ed and Lorraine go to work, using every technological and faith-based method in their playbook to flush out the evil force, which is now threatening to possess one of the Perrons and endanger the lives of the entire family.
As the battle is met, heart-stopping violence ensues, and the jolts come one after another as “The Conjuring” races toward a harrowing conclusion that will leave some audience members exhausted.
A soulful-eyed Farmiga is superb as the brave but slightly fragile Lorraine, who has perhaps been put in harm’s way once too often in this ghost-busting business, but it’s Taylor who all but steals the movie as the emotionally tortured and ravaged mom.
It’s a moody, good old-fashioned fright fest in the “Exorcist” tradition, and at the same time a heartfelt study of a courageous and compassionate, loving couple — the Warrens — who may return for another round in “The Conjuring 2” if this one scores at the box office.
— Gene Triplett
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor. (Sequences of disturbing violence and terror)