I was lucky enough to see an advance screening of The Conjuring which follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they work on a case of the Perron family who’s farmhouse has been taken over by a demonic presence. It was directed by James Wan and stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor. It is based on a true story, taken directly from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
‘The Conjuring’ IS based on a ‘true story’…our story. However, the film is not based on my trilogy ‘House of Darkness House of Light’. It is, instead, based upon the case files of Ed & Lorraine Warren. … There are liberties taken and a few discrepancies but overall, it is what it claims to be — based on a true story, believe it or not. – Andrea Perron (in a Letter to Horror-Movies.ca, June 2013)
SPOILER ALERT: This movie is not in general release at the time of this writing. This review will speak openly about the plot of the movie and WILL contain spoilers. If you do not want to know detailed plot information stop and return after you’ve seen the film.
The movie opens with Ed and Lorraine Warren giving a presentation to a group of students. Ed (Patrick Wilson) is a demonologist and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) is a clairvoyant who work as paranormal investigators. They are recounting for the class one case in particular about a doll named Annabelle which is possessed by a demonic spirit (and a bad ass one at that). While this is a pretty intense little opening scene, it really is just introducing the Warrens, what they do and then when it’s done shows us that the Warrens have a nice little “trophy room” in their house that holds a slew of haunted or possessed items that they’ve captured throughout their career. Ed Warren states it’s better to keep these items locked away safe so they can contain the evil within them.
Meanwhile, the Perron family is moving into an old farmhouse that they’ve recently purchased. Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) Perron have 5 daughters: Cynthia (Mackenzie Foy), Christine (Joey King), Nancy (Hayley McFarland), Andrea (Shanley Caswell) and April (Kyla Deaver). They also have a family dog who seems to be the only smart one of the bunch who refuses to enter the house upon their arrival. They go about their day unpacking and exploring their new farmhouse and play a clapping game where one person is blindfolded and others hide and have to clap on command. This comes back later in a big way.
Things begin to go wrong when clocks continue to stop at the same time every night (3:07), birds fly into the house killing themselves, the dog shows up dead (still outside the house) and they discover a secret basement they didn’t know they had. Carolyn Perron keeps waking up with unexplained bruises on her and the kids are having strange experiences in their rooms at night where it feels as if people are in the room tugging at their feet. The Warrens are called in to investigate. As soon as Lorraine walks into the house, she begins to the see the spirits that are haunting the house. One of the spirits was a witch named Bathsheba Sherman who we come to find out sacrificed her baby to Satan and then hung herself outside the farmhouse from a tree on the property. There are additional spirits in the house of children who had died on or near the premises. Up until now the film has been creepy but relatively slow. And now… shit gets real.
The mother is woken in the middle of the night by the demon witch who proceeds to puke blood into her mouth possessing her. Lorraine correctly determines that the demon possesses the mother of the house and then proceeds to have them kill their children. That’s what happened with the “witch” and now that’s what’s happening with Carolyn. At this point the family has vacated the house and is staying in a local motel. Ed and Lorraine have gone to the Catholic Church to get approval for an exorcism of the house. At this point they do not know that Carolyn has been possessed but Lorraine assumes this has occurred. Carolyn takes two of her girls and returns to the house to presumably sacrifice them.
With no time to waste (and no time to wait for Papal approval for exorcism), Ed and Lorraine return to the house to perform the exorcism. After an incredibly intense scene, Carolyn is saved, the demon is exorcised and the family is finally safe with the ordeal behind them. The movie ends with Ed and Lorraine being made aware of another case they’re being called to in Long Island (The Amityville Haunting).
The casting here is simply amazing. Vera Farmiga deliveres an astounding performance as Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson does nearly as well as Ed. They both dive right into their characters and deliver their lines with a confidence that commands your attention. Of special note is Farmiga’s performance when she’s seeing the spirits that no one else can see…. absolutely gripping.
Ron Livingston is great here too. Office Space is one of my all time favorite comedies and I honestly didn’t think about his performance there once while watching The Conjuring. He was that good. John Brotherton provides some much needed levity with his portrayal of Brad and all of the Perron kids are played to near perfection. They’re scared when they should be scared, playful when they should be playful and ignorant when they should be ignorant.
I want to pay special attention to Lili Taylor’s portrayal of Carolyn Perron here. Up until her character gets taken over she’s doing a fine job. Once that happens she does an AMAZING job. The comparisons to Linda Blair will be coming if they haven’t started already. And while Blair played possessed for more of her screen time I have to say Taylor’s performance may be more convincing. The terror she shows when she’s fighting the demon and the physical performance she gives while “under the sheet” are second to none. Bravo.
The clapping game that they set up toward the beginning on the film provides two of the scariest moments in the whole movie. I won’t describe them here but rest assured you’ll know when you see them. The addition of the Annabelle plot doesn’t do much for the Perron story and the plot line of the Warren’s daughter could probably have been dropped as well. I will say that the addition of that one (the daughter) tugged at my heartstrings as a father. There’s also a pretty major plot point that’s not really paid off. During a previous case, we’re told that Lorraine “sees something” during an exorcism. That’s never really brought back and it’s left to the audience to decide what happened to her. Kind of a bummer that we didn’t get closure, but not a huge issue.
The cinematic choice to tell the story through the eyes of the Warren’s was a smart one as was setting the story in the 70’s. It’d be nearly impossible to tell this type of haunted house tale in today’s day and age of Twitter and social sharing. The fact that this is a period piece will REALLY help it stand up for the long haul as an iconic horror film.
If you want to do some additional reading on the truth and production of The Conjuring here are some links I found with a quick Googling. Some fascinating stuff:
- The Conjuring True Story – Real Bathsheba Witch, Real Perron Family
- 5 Things To Look Forward to in James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’
- The Conjuring (film) at Wikipedia
- The Conjuring (2013) at IMDb
THE GORE & KILLS
I always like to include this section on my reviews. After all, this is a horror movie review site and many people are drawn to horror for blood and gore. You’re not going to get that with The Conjuring. There’s very little blood and even less gore. In fact, I don’t think there’s even a true kill in the movie if you don’t count the family dog and the few birds that fly into the house. That said, this should absolutely be considered a horror movie. It’s scary, dark, creepy, spooky, intense and a variety of other adjectives that I can’t think of right now. Even in the first hour or so where they’re setting up the story, you’re on the edge of your seat because you’re WAITING for something to happen. Wan uses that anticipation to perfection to keep the audience revved up. The screening I attended happened to be on a night where it was storming outside. About an hour or so in the power in the theater went off. Talk about a way to amp up a crowd who was already excited to be there!
I purposefully waited a couple of days to write this review. When I came out of the theater the other night I was so excited that I was texting all of my horror buddies telling them just how awesome it was. As I drove home I feared that I had some “recency effect” going on and I wasn’t able to give it a good review. As a couple of days have passed now, I’m confident that I’ve given a fair review. This is an outstanding horror movie. It’s a great mix of Poltergeist, The Exorcist and The Shining and I simply can’t wait until it opens nationwide so I’ve got more people to talk to about it. These “based on a true story” flicks have a tendency to get a little dry if the story doesn’t hold up or overblown if the director needs to stray from the source material. I’m thrilled to say that The Conjuring does neither. It is a terrifying look at a family’s true experience with evil and will leave you on the edge of your seat. My wife isn’t a horror fan at all. In fact, I can only get her to watch one horror flick per year (on Halloween). The Conjuring is high on the list for this year’s Halloween screening. That’s about the strongest recommend that I could possibly give it. PLEASE go see this movie. You’ll be glad you did.
Have you seen The Conjuring? Let us know what you think in a comment below!