The Conjuring review: they make me believe

MaryAnn’s quick take: Smart, stylish horror flick, though a standout more for its elegant performances than any original scares.
I’m “biast” (pro): adore the cast
I’m “biast” (con): don’t tend to find horror movies scary
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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There seems to be this notion that “based on a true story” makes a haunted-house movie more scary, somehow. It doesn’t work for me, because I do not buy into the paranormal — at all. Try to convince me that phenomena for which we have no evidence whatsoever — and lots of evidence to the contrary — is really real and actually happened, and I will scoff. (Make no pretense about a similar story as fiction, however, and I can play along just fine, same way that I can believe in trolls or magic rings or lightspeed for the duration of a well-told tale.)

So it’s not the supposed authenticity of The Conjuring that makes it work for me; this is allegedly the most horrific case real-life ghosthunters and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, most famous for their involvement in the “Amityville Horror,” ever studied, so horrific that, the movie tells us, they never spoke of it (except they did, frequently). It’s not the fairly generic haunted-house jumps and boos the film engages in, which do not offer anything we haven’t seen in a thousand other horror movies.

Nope: what makes The Conjuring work for me is the simple elegance of the performances, by what may be the most sublime cast ever assembled for a ghost story: Patrick Wilson (Prometheus) and Vera Farmiga (Safe House) as the Warrens, and Lili Taylor (Brooklyn’s Finest) and Ron Livingston (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) as Carolyn and Roger Perron, whose new home appears to be occupied by a nasty demon. (If not all these names ring an immediate bell for you… well, they are all pros and veterans of the highest order, yet not household names precisely because they’ve gone routes more artistic than blockbustery.)

I might not be able to buy that the demon stuff actually for-real really happened, but these oh-so-credible actors make me believe, at least, that they believe it was real. In one scene early in the film, we see the Warrens called to investigate a supposedly haunted house, only to explain to the scared homeowners that what they thought was a ghost is merely loose floorboards moaning in drafty conditions. The implication: the Warrens weren’t con artists or fakers, because if they were, they’d never fail to “diagnose” ghosts and demons. Reality suggests this was not the truth of their work, but within this context and as represented by Wilson and Farmiga, I can readily accept it. And Taylor and Livingston create a family environment, with their five rowdy daughters, so warm and loving, and then so terrorized and under siege. I don’t buy the demon in the basement, but I buy that they do.

see also:
The Conjuring 2 movie review: haunting only in its disjointed bulkiness
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It review: possessed innocent?

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Fri, Aug 02, 2013 2:48pm

I’m biast (con) because I regard the real-life Warrens as evil people making money off the vulnerable and foolish. I can’t get enthused about a film portraying them as heroes any more than I could get enthused about a film portraying Fred Goodwin as a hero.

And then this “real” story gets used as, hey, guess what, another reason to blame and punish women.

Yeah, call it fiction and I’m just a bit edgy about yet another film along the same old lines. Claim it’s in any sense true, and I’m out and staying out. Pity I’ll miss the excellent performances.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Aug 02, 2013 4:43pm

This is why I cannot take any of this stuff as true.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Aug 02, 2013 5:27pm

I have a similar problem with The Da Vinci Code (which, admittedly, I haven’t read). I thought the premise was pretty clever, as long as you think of the book as a far-fetched thriller. The MacGuffin is much more interesting than the usual cache of gold or top-secret missile plans. My problem is with the fans who think the information in the book is true, and go on at great length about Freemasons and the conspiracy in the Church. At least Twilight fans don’t think vampires are real.

Fri, Aug 02, 2013 9:08pm

Exactly! A great movie simply due to the performances. I love horror movies, but am entirely sick of boring jump scares and ridiculous blood spatter. I like a good story, creepy atmosphere, and great, convincing, performances. This movie fills the quota.

I am 100% with you on the “true story” business. Whenever I see that my interest fades. Of course it’s not true, because ghost and demons don’t exist. I was glad this movie magically rose above that.
The final statement from Ed Warren I found annoying. Such bold statements with zero evidence. Ugh. Works for the movie, and probably a large portion of the audience, sadly, but just irritated me.

Bea Harper
Bea Harper
Mon, Aug 05, 2013 10:37am

As per usual, well-composed. The scariest scene for me was when nothing was REALLY happening, it was just the young actress selling the scene.