by Hope Madden
Welcome to 1971, the year the Perron family took one step inside their new home and screamed with horror, “My God, this wallpaper is hideous!”
Seriously, it often surprises me that civilization made it through the Seventies. Must every surface and ream of fabric be patterned? Still, the Perrons found survival tougher than most.
The farmhouse’s previous residents may be dead, but they haven’t left, and they are testy! So the Perrons have no choice but to look up paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren – the real life couple linked to many famous American hauntings, including one in Amityville, NY. The Conjuring is allegedly based on one of the couple’s cases.
Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.
Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.
Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.
But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.
A game cast helps. Joining five believably terrified girls in solid performances are Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and the surprisingly well-suited Ron Livingston as the helpless patriarch. The usually sublime Lili Taylor is uncharacteristically flat as the clan’s loving mother, unfortunately, but there’s more than enough to distract you from that.
Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.