MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Conjuring’ up a good, scary time

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First Posted: 7/22/2013

There’s a reason why scary movies such as “The Conjuring” make a ton of money at the box office. Fear is a primal emotion; it never gets old. It can be produced with relative ease – and with a minimal amount of public skepticism. TV has somehow managed to not dominate the scary genre, probably because scary movies aren’t as beholden to formula.

Look at all the sequels and familiar faces and new spins on old favorites that have come to the multiplexes this summer: it’s “Men in Black” but with dead people; it’s “Die Hard” set in the White House. The entertainment value is based on one part comfort and one part spectacle, whether it’s Iron Man blasting away the bad guys or us getting another peep at Ken Jeong’s junk.

With scary movies, all that matters is the rush that comes from getting scared. And we get our money’s worth with “The Conjuring,” a sturdy, reliable little movie. Veteran director James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”) knows that fear – the good, peeking-through-our-fingers kind – is something you cannot CGI.

The fact-based tale brings us to 1971. The bustling Perron family has moved into a large house in bucolic Rhode Island. It’s a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting, only the colors are getting darker by the moment. Mrs. Perron (Lili Taylor) is waking up with mysterious bruises. The clocks all stop at 3:07 a.m. By the time the family’s photos get knocked off the walls, coincidence is no longer an excuse. Married paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Norman (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) get called in to drive the evil spirits from the Perrons before they latch on permanently.

“The Conjuring” succeeds because it does a lot of little things exceptionally well. Starting from the very beginning, Wan misdirects us – Is this film about a doll? Why did he linger on the matches left on the cellar stairs? What is the music box all about? – so we’re never quite sure where we stand. Wan emphasizes noises, creaks, and clatters. Or he’ll focus on the slight movement of a specific part of the body, like hair, or have the action occur off-screen. My pet peeve with scary movies is when we recognize the scare before the character does. “The Conjuring” avoids that. Wan gradually builds the suspense with each glimpse and clatter. The anticipation is more delicious than the scare itself because you keep bristling for the frightful payload. When it comes, it’s almost a relief.

Really, “The Conjuring” is a fun movie, and nothing gets in the way of the good time. Wan gets our attention with the pacing and atmosphere; the performances from the four adult leads (Ron Livingston plays the patriarch of the Perron family) are solid without being distracting. The actors seem to know they’re not the reason people flocked to “The Conjuring” this past weekend. Audiences wanted to get a shot of adrenaline, to maybe have their dates get a little closer. They definitely went to the right movie.

Rating: W W W

-To read more of Pete’s cinematic musings, please visit or follow him on Twitter, @PeteCroatto.