One of the surprise hits of the summer is a modestly budgeted horror movie with no big-name stars. Most horror movies open big one weekend, and are gone the next. In contrast, “The Conjuring” has made its mark with surprisingly strong reviews and good word-of-mouth. It’s a combination of “The Exorcist,” “Poltergeist,” and “The Amityville Horror,” with a little of TV’s “Ghost Hunters” thrown in for good measure. So if you liked those, chances are you’ll like “The Conjuring.”
“The Conjuring” is based on a real incident. Ed and Lorraine Warren (well-played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) were psychic investigators in New England in the second half of the 20th century. Among many cases, they investigated the haunting made famous in “The Amityville Horror.” They worked closely with the Church, often consulting with priests, and, on occasion, bringing them in as exorcists.
In 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron purchased an abandoned farmhouse in Rhode Island and moved in with their five daughters. Soon afterward, the family began to experience paranormal phenomena, beginning with unexplained noises, creaking doors, and clocks that mysteriously stopped at 3:17 each morning. Of course, things went from bad to worse. Disturbing, threatening images terrified the family. Carolyn heard about the Warrens and attended a lecture given by them. After the presentation, Carolyn pleaded with the Warrens to investigate their house. Although initially hesitant, Carolyn’s desperation persuaded the Warrens to visit their house.
Initially “The Conjuring” is formulaic. The Perrons are shown happily moving into their new house. The mood becomes progressively darker as the story of the house’s previous inhabitants is uncovered and paranormal activity escalates. Unlike most contemporary horror movies, there is no comic relief to break the tension. Director James Wan and screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes take the plight of the both the Perrons and the Warrens seriously. Not only does the demonic presence take its toll on the Perrons, but also the Warrens, to the extent that Ed asks Lorraine to remove herself from the scene of the investigation. Lorraine protests, stating the God had brought them together in order to do this work.
I appreciated the fact that “The Conjuring” manages to be scary and suspenseful without resorting to the other staple of contemporary horror films: bloody violence. There’s no knife-wielding stalker with a hockey mask lurking outside this farmhouse. The demons in the basement are much more frightening.
The religious theme in “The Conjuring” is well integrated into the story. The Warrens are practicing Catholics. They bring holy water and crucifixes into the farmhouse. Unlike some movies, these objects are not just gimmicks, but used for their sacramental effects. We even see the rite of exorcism in a frightening climactic scene.
When Ed discovers that Roger and Carolyn’s children have never been baptized, he remarks: “You may want to rethink that.” In “The Conjuring” the power of evil is undeniable. So is the power that is greater than evil.
Tom Condon, OP