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Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:09 am

Familiar frights haunt The Conjuring

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Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring.
PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES

In the fall of 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) got a fantastic deal on a sprawling home in rural Rhode Island. To be sure, it was a house that needed some work – the floors were in need of finishing, there were more than a few squeaky hinges that needed to be oiled and a good coat of paint would have done wonders for the entire place. Still, it was a home the Perrons could make their own, a safe place to raise their five daughters that was economically feasible. What they didn’t know was that a malevolent spirit came with the home, free of charge.

James Wan’s The Conjuring tells the Perron’s tale through the eyes of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), two well known paranormal investigators who spent most of their time providing logical explanations to supposed hauntings. However, over the course of their nearly five decades-long career, they came upon rare cases that offered up no logical explanation and could only be classified as supernatural in nature. The Perron’s case was one such incident and if this film is to be believed, these poor folks were the victims of the worst real estate deal since Native Americans traded away the island of Manhattan.

The film contains many of the requisite scares found in productions of this sort. Inexplicable sounds and creaks are heard throughout the house, one of the Perron’s children begins sleepwalking, horrendous odors spring from nowhere and then the real fun begins. One of the daughters is pulled from her bed by an unseen force while Carolyn finds herself terrorized by a spirit that prompts her to do the unthinkable.

Wan does a fine job creating a genuinely eerie atmosphere, and as he’s already proven with Saw and Insidious, he’s no slacker where delivering satisfying jolts that shake up even the most jaded horror fan. What’s refreshing about the director’s approach is that he goes about building the tension in an old-fashioned manner, using long takes and spans of silence to build toward effective scares that are often rendered by placing his camera at the proper angle so that the emergence of another character comes as a surprise or a quick edit delivers a shocking moment. Yes, there are special effects at play here, especially during the film’s rousing third act, but many of the movie’s most frightening moments are executed through Wan’s effective use of the most basic of film tools.

While The Conjuring is an effective ghost story, it’s hobbled by the fact that it all seems so familiar. The structure of this film is almost the same as Wan’s far better Insidious. It too dealt with a family being terrorized by a malevolent spirit after having moved into a new house. The correlations between the two films are far too obvious to be ignored and while very few movies these days could be accused of being overly original, the sense here is that Wan is spinning his wheels, retreading the same material. While The Conjuring is effective, there’s nothing really new here. Whether the director goes over the same ground again in Insidious: Chapter 2, to be released later this year, remains to be seen.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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