Movie Review: 'The Conjuring' (2013)

When it comes to horror films, there are two fundamental elements that go into making a decent offering: being scary and entertaining. As far as the scare factor of “The Conjuring” is concerned, it does not personally offer up many effective frights.

To be fair, as a skeptic, the subject matter automatically lends itself to not being all that terrifying to begin with. Where the film does succeed is in being entertaining.

It moves at a steady pace, has likable characters and a plotline that is engaging as both a mystery and a thriller. Director James Wan (“Saw”) takes a step back from the blood and gore of his previous films, to enable the imagination of viewers in creating the visual frights.

“The Conjuring” tells the “based on true story” events of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren’s paranormal investigation into the haunting of the Perron family’s newly acquired farmhouse by an evil presence.

It is nothing groundbreaking where ghost stories are concerned but the approach is dazzling. Granted there are some unintentionally humorous clichés, where the presence is involved however, it is all executed with great conviction.

The 70’s atmosphere and directing approach serves the film well. There could have been more in the way of 70’s music to really draw the audience closer to the era, though what it does provide, suffices.

That is not the only area the film falls short of achieving its groovy send-up though. While all of the camera pans are accurate to the period, filming in digital causes the movie to lose the richness of the time's Technicolor cinematography. Without that, the illusion you you are watching a film that was actually made in the 70's is significantly hampered.

The angle the film really succeeds with is its characters. You really empathize with all of them and their plight. Though they fall into the pitfalls that horror film canon dictates they must, they bounce back unscathed, in terms of their perceived intelligence level.

You can easily chalk it up to their optimism that things will get better. They have good reason to want them too.

The Perron household is filled with loving parents and five precocious girls. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are effective as the concerned and caring parents. All of the kid actors are also magnificent, giving performances that never become overwrought with emotion. They keep it simple and it works.

The family unit is very convincing overall, especially the banter between the girls which bears the genuine hallmarks of sisterhood.

Vera Farmiga ("Bates Motel") and Patrick Wilson ("Insidious") are both outstanding as the Warrens. They have great chemistry and the sincerity in which they profess their paranormal beliefs, will have you wanting to believe their characters are not hoax artists.

It is refreshing to see a married couple presented in a way where their love and affection has not grown bitter or worn with time.

Wilson brings the nice guy quotient to new heights without overindulging the schmaltz, in yet another refined performance from the underrated talent. 

As always, Farmiga delivers a stunning portrayal rife with her usually deft ability to convey compassion and enigmatic intrigue. She, like Wilson, is an underrated gem and it is wonderful to see her where she deserves to be in a feature film, front and center.

The thing about Wilson and Farmiga’s performances is that they prove there are people who are good enough actors to convince those searching for answers in the supernatural that they are the real McCoy.

As a result, one should consider "The Conjuring" an inadvertent cautionary reminder that not all great actors, necessarily work in front of a camera. 

Special mention should also be made of John Brotherton ("One Life to Live") and Shannon Kook who play crucial roles in the latter half of the film; each adding some much needed humor to the dark ambiance with their performances. 

The only umbrage with the film is that it has strongly promoted itself as depicting “true events”. After seeing the film, there is no question that none of what is depicted is actually within the realm of possibility.

Therefore, the film standing on that foundation is rather ridiculous. If you want to see an entertaining film with fantastic performances, look no further. As for long lasting scares, the search will have to wear on. Rating: 7.5/10

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