The Conjuring (New Line Cinema, R)

conjuring 75Although it has enough legitimate scares to justify a trip to the theater, just don’t expect much from the story.

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Horror is one of the most enduring genres in cinema, with at least two or three scary movies given a wide release each year. Luckily, we are on the downslope of the “torture porn” sub-genre that was inspired by the Saw movies, and are now being disturbed more by paranormal activities than by sadistic and violent psychopaths.

The Conjuring is one of several horror films to be released this year and, like nearly all movies coming out of Hollywood these days, isn’t an original concept, but based (supposedly) on actual events from the early 1970s. Director James Wan, who directed the first Saw movie, has crafted a serviceable entry into the history of the horror genre, but doesn’t add anything particularly new or inventive. Still, The Conjuring is mildly entertaining and does manage to have a few genuinely unsettling moments.

Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are the world’s foremost paranormal investigators, having assisted with dozens of verified exorcisms and debunked plenty of hokum. (This much is true.) They are enlisted by Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) to figure out what is haunting the home they’ve just moved into. When Ed and Lorraine arrive, they can immediately tell something is not right. Lorraine is a clairvoyant and can sense there are several demonic beings that have attached themselves to the house and to the Perrons family.

The Warrens agree to move into the house to help rid it of its malevolent spirits, but it becomes much harder than they anticipated. As they investigate the history of the house itself, they discover it has a long and violent past, one that concerns Lorraine as it relates to Carolyn and her daughters. As the spirits become more and more active, the house’s disturbing secrets begin to come into focus.

It’s hard to critique a horror movie because so much of one’s judgment is based on “Was I scared?”. The Conjuring is scary, without a doubt, but it is Wan’s approach to the storytelling that detracts from the overall experience. Early in the film, Wan employs a subjective, first-person–style camera technique when eerie things first begin happing in the Perrons’ house. We follow the characters as they explore the disturbances, watching over their shoulders, which increases our own anxiety. Halfway through the action, though, Wan jettisons this altogether and films the rest of the movie in the standard medium-shot/long-shot style. This leaves the audience feeling disoriented and constantly expecting Wan to revert to the point-of-view camerawork.

While the latter half of the movie relies heavily on CGI for its scares, the “demonic” intrusions early on are achieved with practical and in-camera effects. This retro style fits the 1970s setting but, again, Wan ditches this approach as the film progresses. The set design and costuming is quite good, making the house and actors appear as if they truly existed in that decade. Wilson’s suits, specifically, are so hideous that they had to have been modeled after the real thing.

In fact, Wilson himself is probably the best part of the film. While he can’t be considered a great actor, Wilson is always very good in his roles and always breathes a sense of reality into whatever character he is playing. His commitment is always impressive, even in a subpar film such as this. Farmiga, Livingston, and Collins are also quite good, as well, each doing their best with the very thin characters that were written for them.

The Conjuring is mostly a harmless and forgettable horror movie, but for true addicts of the genre, it does have enough legitimate scares to justify a trip to the theater. Just don’t expect much from the story, which is riddled with holes and dropped subplots, amounting to a perfect example of how not to write a screenplay. | Matthew Newlin

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