This movie is terrifying! I expected no less from director James Wan of Insidious and Saw fame. Based on the real cases investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring begins by introducing one of the most menacing characters to be put on film in the past decade.
A doll, cracked, dressed in a dirty outfit, and always staring with wide eyes and a mischievous smile, is turned in to Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (the fantastic Vera Farmiga) when the three college-age friends believe it to be possessed. In a genius piece of screenwriting, writers Chad and Carey Hayes lay the groundwork for the rest of the hauntings in the film. As with the Paranormal Activity movies, most of the scares and creatures stalking the Perron family later on are invisible - only seen when the tension has been ratcheted up so much that it feels like the audience is going to die of suffocation. Since what we imagine is more terrifying than what the filmmakers can actually portray on screen, we are given clues as to what the unseen forces in this world - our world, as the text on screen reminds us - look like. As Lorraine explains, these menacing beings are not ghosts at all.
They are demons, animalistic creatures that have never walked this earth in human form. They strive to possess and wreak havoc and death upon everyone with an impressionable mind. They will use objects to get our attention and break us down until we can be completely possessed by them.
Of course, things start out small for Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingson) who have just bought a house in the country by a tranquil river, bringing along their five young daughters with them. This film takes place in the 1970's and Wan makes great use of period costumes and hit singles from the day as he lulls the audience into a false sense of normality. But, when the lights go out, that's when we are treated to the doors moving on their own. Numerous series of three knocks are heard, constantly moving throughout the house, as if leading the Perrons on a wild goose chase when they see that there is "nothing" there and shrug it off.
But, this is horror, and as we all know, there is always something there, lurking in the shadows. I am particularly impressed by Joey King, recently seen this summer in White House Down. She is the first daughter to be terrorized at night after the family discovers a boarded-up cellar beneath the house, complete with cobweb-draped furnishings and an unnerving piano at the foot of the creaky stairs. King is nearly ripped from her bed and, in one of the most convincing pieces of acting I've seen from a young actress in a horror movie, King struggles to find her voice and wake her sister. She points to the dark corner by the open door, exclaiming that there is someone standing there. My hair stood on end as the family walked through the space to inspect what they believed was just an empty corner - but again, this is horror. Things take a turn for the worst as the malevolent spirits in the house delight in being found out.
Hats off to the writers for finding a way to tie together the cliche stories of a haunted country home and the team of renowned paranormal investigators who come to save them. Even though the film is based on actual events, however embellished for entertainment value, the old solution of calling an exorcist has been laughable of late. However, the Hayes create an emotional strand that connects the two families and forces them to work together to drive out the demons haunting their property. Are they successful? I won't spoil it here!
This is absolutely a film to be seen in cinemas. The sound design is unmatched by any recent horror film I've seen, and Joseph Bishara's music is hands down his best contribution to the genre to date. I was completely invested in the story of these two families and the horrors they come up against. There are some very sobering questions posed in this film that gave it weight for me, in that the characters acknowledge good and evil, as well as God and Satan. These topics create a moral dilemma on top of all the supernatural trickery going on and brings about a great moral struggle for the characters as they continue to witness things that shouldn't exist. When I got home later in the early morning, I looked twice whenever I heard an unexplained noise in my sleeping home.
Remember, it's all fun and games until demons are involved.