Every now and then, a movie comes along that can genuinely creep me out. It usually has to do with the atmosphere both on screen as well as in the theater. In recent years, I can immediately think of three movies that had that impression on me. The first Paranormal Activity (2007), just in the way it was handled and not shoved in your face; Insidious (2010), which gave us that classic jump scare in the kitchen and forever burned the already creepy “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” song into our brains; and The Woman in Black (2012), because it offered up a gothic setting that Hollywood tends to avoid these days. Now, I can add The Conjuring to that list of flicks that left me a little unsettled.
I’m quick to admit that the atmosphere of the movie theater played a big part: a 10:15 pm showing on a Sunday night with the entire building mostly empty and only 10 people in our particular theater. The Conjuring gives us a tale “based on a true story” from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Now, I’m a self-professed Ghost Hunters fans. I’ll openly admit I believe in ghosts. But I also know about 99% of events can be explained with rational thought. I think Ghost Hunters was interesting in the beginning but now reeks of the BS prevalent in all of the ghost hunting tales we see on TV. I know that the Warrens have their fans as well as their detractors. With that, I went in with the notion that this was going to be a fun ride and threw out any ideas that what I was witnessing was indeed a true story.
Ed and Lorraine Warren, the main characters of The Conjuring, are now world-renowned demonologists, most famous for their participation in the controversial Amityville Horror case. That very incident was a dividing moment for those who believe in them and those who don’t. Here, the year is 1971, and the Warrens had been investigating the paranormal since 1952. They would ultimately investigate over 10,000 incidents in their career. This tale of the Perron family has been percolating in Hollywood for over 20 years ever since Ed played a recording of his interview with Carolyn Perron to producer Tony DeRosa-Grund, who tried for years to get the movie made. Sadly, a deal wasn’t finalized until 2009, three years after Ed’s death.
The story centers on the tale of the Warrens and their investigation into the events surrounding the Perron family. Carolyn (Lili Taylor, Hemlock Grove) and Roger (Ron Livingston, Defying Gravity) Perron move their five daughters to an old farmhouse in Harrisville, RI, spending everything they had to start this new chapter in their lives. On the very first day, their dog Sadie refuses to enter the house (bad sign #1). Then, a closet is revealed to be the entry way into a basement staircase. Just why was it boarded up (bad sign #2)? Okay, we’ll cut them some slack. This was 1971, and such things weren’t common knowledge. However, I know enough now that nothing ever good comes out of a boarded-up staircase and everybody should pay attention to the family dog. Little events begin occurring with greater frequency: the death of the family dog, the clocks stopping at 3:07 am, clapping sounds, whispers, birds crashing into the house. When Carolyn is locked in a cellar and what appears to be an old woman attacks one of the daughters, it’s time to bring in the Warrens. We have a good old fashioned demonic possession setting up here and it gets a whole lot crazier before this ride is over.
We see that the Warrens have lectures on their cases and keep a museum in their home for all of the artifacts, including the notorious Annabelle doll. In fact, the case behind that doll is what starts the movie, before we even meet the Peron family. Yes, this doll really does exist and still resides in the real museum inside the Warren home. However, in reality, it is a Raggedy Ann doll, not the terrifying doll we see in the movie. And no, the doll did not figure into the real-life events of the Perron family. However, it helps turn the creep factor to 11 and is sure to give some people nightmares.
Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) and Vera Farmiga (Orphan, Bates Motel) turn in fun performances as Ed and Lorraine Wilson. They come off as genuine and, perhaps, a bit more honest than the real Ed and Lorraine. I’d like to think the Warrens really have seen and battled the demons and ghosts they claim to have met. However, that illusion was ruined when I read they charge $109 to tour the museum. Still, given the chance, yes, I’d probably go. And, the Perron family stands by their story, so there is no real reason to think at least something didn’t happen in 1971.
Considering this is just one out of 10,000 cases, it should surprise no one that a sequel has been ordered. With a budget of $13 million and a current gross of over $220 million, not to mention all of the positive reviews, it was guaranteed. The movie is very entertaining, with a great soundtrack that helps to build the anxiety. With minimal digital effects, it easily is the scariest movie I’ve seen this year. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) knows how to terrify an audience. Sure, we’ve seen demonic possession before but this one is fun and very well done. Highly recommended!