Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera
Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston
Director: James Wan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.4:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: October 22, 2013
“We've been called ghost hunters, paranormal researchers, wackos...”
“But we prefer to be known simply as Ed and Lorraine Warren.”
Considering he's the man responsible for Saw, which grew into one of the most brutally violent franchises in horror history, director James Wan has lately been showing a surprising knack for creating true terror without needing bloodshed or even onscreen death. In Insidious, only one character died. No one dies in The Conjuring.
If you think I've given too much away, then you have yet to experience the atmospheric marvel of this movie. In many ways, it's a good old-fashioned haunted house film, neatly tucking every cliché into the fabric of the script, right down to the “based on a true story”. Not everything is original. But the overall, cumulative effect is enough to raise goosebumps and jangle the nerves.
It's based on a married couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga), who were ghost hunters long before such a thing was popular or cool. In 1971, which is when this film takes place, Ed was only one of about 7 “demonologists” recognized by the Catholic Church, and the only one not to be an ordained priest. He has even assisted in exorcisms. Lorraine was a clairvoyant who had seen some truly evil things in her experiences...each, according to Ed, costing her a little piece of her own soul.
We see some of their story at the same time we see that of the Perron family, headed by Roger and Carolyn (Livingston and Taylor). They have just moved into a lovely new house with a lot of land they got at an auction, and with their five daughters are ready to start a new chapter in their lives.
It never works out that way, does it? Soon, a menacing presence begins to make itself known. At first, just some knocks here or there, or tugging on the children's feet while they sleep...one girl even begins sleepwalking, while another claims to be able to conjure a little boy in the mirror on the lid of a music box.
The presence gets angrier and more violent, in some rather startling ways, driving the family to seek out the Warrens. The Warrens are used to coming to homes and easily debunking the supernatural, but in this case, they sense the danger. Through their research, early camera technology and personal experiences, they hope to convince the Church to perform an exorcism...a difficult case to win, as the Perron family is not religious, nor are the children baptized.
As mentioned, there is plenty in the movie you've seen before, and if you enjoy the haunted house genre as much as I do, don't be surprised if you find yourself ticking off a little mental checklist as the expected moments appear. Usually the only question is, does the movie scare? In the case of The Conjuring, that's a definite yes.
I found the look of the movie intriguing...I noticed more spots and flickers here and there than you would expect from a modern film on Blu-ray, but at the same time, considering this movie depicted events from the 70s, I wondered if the effect was purposeful. It worked...it definitely kept me in the mind frame of the decade...but it lends to a slightly less than stellar high definition experience.
I've said it too many times to count...sound is all-important in a horror film, and this uncompressed DTS track delivers the powerful dynamic range that will keep you unraveling. From the long, uncomfortable stretches of silence, to the all out assault of the paranormal presence, to the surprising (and effective) lack of music, this is a solid and superb mix.
There are only three short featurettes to accompany the film, but interesting ones. The first has interviews with the real modern day Perron family, and the second with Lorraine Warren (Ed has sadly passed on). The last joins James Wan for a look at the making of the film.
It's not quite as good as Insidious, but close. James Wan delivers some terrific scares with The Conjuring. Sleep tight!