When a film states that the story is based on real events, it usually means that it’s really fiction but there’s a kernel of truth buried in there somewhere. When a film states it’s based on a true story, there’s usually a considerable amount of cinematic embellishment, but its inspiration is reality based.
The Conjuring does neither. The Conjuring states that it’s based on the true story, and that’s a whole different matter. As a natural born skeptic I still have my doubts, but in this case perhaps being a skeptic is really some form of protection. If I thought for a minute that what we see happen in The Conjuring really did happen, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
Based – evidently – on the true story, The Conjuring is that rarity in today’s supernatural horror genre… it’s scary. The year is 1971 and a nice family called the Perron family move into the perfect farmhouse in Rhode Island, but from the moment they arrive all the ominous signs are there; the family dog refuses to go into the house, all the clocks stop at 3:07 in the morning, mom (Lili Taylor) keeps waking up with mysterious bruises over her body and one of the daughters keeps sleepwalking and banging her head against a cupboard as if in a trance. And if that wasn’t bad enough, another of the daughters – the family has four altogether – is playing with an invisible friend called Rory who tells the young girl there’s an entity in the house and it wants the family dead. I don’t know how you would react, but for me, that would pretty much do it.
But the Perrons can’t move out. Everything they have is tied up in the house and to move out would be committing economic suicide. So they remain, hoping that whatever was happening was really just one of those things and that there’s really nothing to worry about. Then every framed family portrait on all the walls simultaneously crash and smash to the floor as if a freaky earthquake had suddenly hit the house, rancid smells hit certain areas of the rooms, and birds fly like missiles against the sides of the outside walls, breaking their necks.. “Tell me what’s going on here?” a frantic dad (Ron Livingston) demands.
What’s going on is that residents of the past, long deceased, are still there and they’re not happy. Enter real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who have no doubt that the house is haunted. It’s not only haunted, as Lorraine immediately sees the moment she enters the house, whatever is in the house has attached themselves to each member of the family, like an invisible hump permanently riding their backs, staying with them wherever they go. As Ed explains, “Sometimes when you’re haunted it’s like stepping on gum; it goes with you.”
What works in The Conjuring – and yes, this film really does hit the mark – is that all special effects are kept to a minimum. What we have are old fashioned creaky doors, objects that move, something hiding under the bed, and the creepiest looking doll in movie history. In many ways, this is old school, haunted house movie-making and it shreds your nerves. What you can’t see is worse than what you can. There are ‘Boo’ moments – moments where you anticipate something might happen, and it does, and you jump – but they’re not cheap. The Conjuring earns its scares.
And in case you were wondering about the validity of the situations, during the end credits we see pictures of the real people, the Perron family and the investigators. Names have not been changed, and the place really does exist. Whether the events occurred in the manner in which the film presents them, I don’t know, and I’m not sure I really want to know or even think about it for too long. All I can say is that director James Wan (Insidious) has achieved his aim. The Conjuring is one genuinely scary ride.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 112 minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)