People who believe in paranormal activity and demonic possession probably will find “The Conjuring” entertaining, intriguing, riveting, and terrifying, but because I don’t buy any of it, I thought the film was done very well, albeit not the least bit frightening.
Based upon a true story, “The Conjuring” chronicles the horrifying experience of Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), who in 1971 buy a rundown farmhouse in Harrisville, R.I., where they hope to make a good home for themselves and their five daughters, Andrea (Shanley Caswell), Nancy (Hayley McFarland), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy), and April (Kyla Deaver). From the moment they move in, however, they find themselves in the midst of a living nightmare, and why in the hell they stayed there more than one or two days surpasses my understanding.
First, every morning Carolyn awakens, she finds a new, ugly bruise on her body, and one of her daughters keeps complaining about her sister’s grabbing her feet while she is sleeping. Then a foul smell begins permeating the house, and every night all the clocks stop at 3:07 a.m. Doors open and close by themselves, the house is constantly cold despite Carolyn’s turning up the heat every night, and one evening all the pictures hanging by the staircase come crashing down. And of course there are mysterious voices and laughter, and one of the daughters discovers a friend living in her music box. Finally something so heinous happens to Carolyn that she decides it’s time to take desperate measures.
After attending a lecture presented by Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), renowned paranormal experts, Carolyn begs them to come look at her house. As soon as she walks through the front door, Lorraine knows the house is haunted. When Lorraine and Ed conduct some research about the house, they learn one of the former owners was a woman named Bathsheba, who was suspected of being a witch and who ultimately hanged herself after attempting to sacrifice her two children to the devil. And it is her evil spirit inhabiting the place.
It seems that Bathsheba has had her sights set on Carolyn all along, and when she finally manages to possess her, Ed must perform an emergency exorcism to save her and her daughters from the demon’s clutches. The film’s final moments are gratifyingly intense for paranormal fanatics who should not be disappointed with the movie’s contribution to its genre.
My main problem with films like this is that they are all pretty much carbon copies, and after you have seen one picture fall off a wall or one door open by itself or one creepy doll or nasty spirit bouncing someone off a wall and so on and so on, you have seen them all. That being said, however, “The Conjuring” does have some attributes to recommend it.
In the first place, the farmhouse is sufficiently creepy (particularly the basement), and the special effects are outstanding. Among the movie’s most effective scenes is the one in which a spirit drags one of the daughters around by the hair, and Bathsheba’s possession of Carolyn’s body is quite convincing. Also, Lorraine’s visions are particularly disturbing. In the film’s production notes, Farmiga, who did a lot of research about Lorraine in preparation for her role, offered some interesting insight into her character.
“Lorraine has a very concrete concept of God; her Catholicism is her toolbox and her shield. The first thing you realize is she believes that this ability of discernment is a God-given gift. And if you don’t use it, he’ll take it away. So this is not an occupation; it’s not a job. This is a vocation, a calling. The balance between taking care of herself and Ed and Judy, and taking care of everybody else—making sure that they had peace of mind when her own mind wasn’t always at peace—was challenging for her and challenging for me to delve into. I found the partnership of Ed and Lorraine exquisite. They were a dynamic duo; I just loved how they complemented each other—her sensitivity and empathy, his street smarts and matter-of-fact approach. They had a very great and unique love, and a respect for one another, and it resonates.”
Farmiga and Wilson excel in their portrayals of Lorraine and Ed respectively because their exceptional chemistry makes them completely believable as husband and wife. Lorraine and Ed are totally committed to helping people, and in the production notes Wilson explained how he approached the role of Ed.
“Ed believed that there are wonderful, great spirits in the world and some very evil ones that have been around for thousands of years, and he was going to do the best he could with his wife to fight them and to help people. Ed honestly believed it through and through, so I had to believe that through and through to play him.”
Taylor and Livingston also turn in nice performances as the beleaguered Perrons, and Taylor’s part was incredibly demanding physically because of all the punishment inflicted upon her character. The young actresses playing the five daughters complement the work of Taylor and Livingston nicely in that they make us believe that they are really sisters.
Although I not a believer in any kind of paranormal activity, I think “The Conjuring” effectively conveys the horror the Perrons lived through, and I certainly am not questioning the validity of their story. But I wasn’t there to see it, and I believe only what I lay eyes on. Nevertheless “The Conjuring” earns a very respectable seven.
Now that I…. Wait a minute. What was that? Gotta go. A damn picture just fell off the wall!