‘The Conjuring’: Spooky

July 17, 2013


The older I get, the less interested I am in horror films, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, the modern horror film has evolved into a choice between torture porn (violent and grisly for its own sake) and special-effects extravaganzas. Most of the horror I see (or try to avoid seeing) seems too much in love with sadism, instead of tension

While I have little problem giving myself over to a fantasy or sci-fi thriller, I have a hard time buying into the supernatural. Ghosts, demons, the paranormal – sorry but I’ve never been a believer. If something like “The Amityville Horror” happened today, it would be all over the Internet quicker than Justin Bieber’s last bout of public toilet-training. And, just as quickly, it would be debunked. (Yeah, that’s what they want you to think, say the conspiracy theorists.)

So it’s always a pleasant surprise to happen upon a movie that achievers the level of suspense or just plain creepiness that “The Conjuring” manages. It calls to mind films like “The Exorcist,” which understood that the less you saw, the scarier it got.

Based on a true story, the film follows two couples. The first pair is the Perrons (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor), parents of a brood of kids who move into a huge house in the early 1970s that they bought for a song. That song, I believe, was “Run For Your Life.”

Because bad things keep happening there – to the people who owned it previously and the people before that, all the way back to the 19th century. So, of course, things start happening to the Perrons and their kids.

The second couple is Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), a pair of demon-busters. They work with the church to battle evil spirits that have a bad habit of taking over people’s lives. They’re not actually exorcists – but she’s got second sight and he’s tight enough with the Church that he can pinch hit in a battle with Satan’s minions.

The Warrens take up residence with the Perrons after one of the Perron children becomes the target of this particular evil spirit. Then it jumps to mother Carolyn, to fulfill an apparently longstanding destiny involving mothers being tempted into murdering their children.

To me, this is the kind of horror that feels real. People do go crazy and butcher their children in the real world. I don’t have to believe in actual demons to find that threat compelling.

And Taylor acts it to the hilt. She’s one of the subtlest, most incisive actresses around, one who has been criminally underemployed the last few years. She’s able to show you both the frightened woman who has lost control of her own body – and the crazed creature she’s become.

Wilson and Farmiga aren’t jokey or hip; this is the early 1970s and they’re both true believers. Which is another reason this film works as well as it does: Director James Wan and his cast understand that the more seriously they take it, the more seriously we will.

Maybe that’s the key – “The Conjuring” takes itself seriously as a story, instead of as a shtick-laden premise on which to hang a series of gory SFX atrocities. As a result, it’s as scary a film as I’ve seen in a long time.

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