'The Conjuring' is a harrowing haunted house heartstopper


Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.

Here's a horror thriller that will scare the butterscotch off your crimpet.

"The Conjuring" (2013) is an eerie, well-crafted chiller based on a true story that, by controlling the mood and atmosphere to put the audience through the horror wringer with disturbing paranormal activity, vividly demonstrates the difference between gory and scary.

It's just as decidedly not the former as it is most assuredly the latter.

Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor play Roger and Caroline Perron, who, with their five daughters, move into a spacious farmhouse in Rhode Island in 1971.

Almost immediately, things start going bump in the night, foul odors are detected, kamikaze birds smash into the outside of the house, doors slam, and unaccountable bruises emerge.

Traumatized by whatever this dark presence is in their house, and after far too many sleepless nights, the Perrons call on Connecticut-based supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, husband-and-wife demonologists played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.

The real-life "ghostbusters" (who had ties to the case that formed the basis for “The Amityville Horror”) quickly decide that only an exorcism holds the possibility of getting the family through its waking nightmare.

Director James Wan ("Saw," "insidious," "Death Sentence," "Dead Silence") wisely avoids the over-the-top graphic approach and glues his audience to the screen by trusting his period-piece material and employing a masterful slow build, maintaining a level of tension and dread throughout, letting our imaginations be part of the formula, sprinkling in just a bit of tension-release humor, and - most important-sending quite a few shivers up our spines with what we don't see rather than what we witness and turn away from.

Going the CGI special-effects route infrequently, Wan employs admirable discipline and restraint -- at least until the climax -- and certainly knows how to make seemingly ordinary things and occurrences unnerving.

The less-is-more screenplay by twin brothers Chadd and Carey Hayes, working from the recently unsealed archives of the Warrens, allows us to get to know the ghost hunters as well as the family to whose aid they come. The Warrens are characters, not just obligatory ploy contrivances, and the story is just as much theirs as it is that of the beleaguered Perrons.

Wan's primary cast, Wilson (who previously collaborated with Wan on "Insidious"), Farmiga, Livingston and Taylor, is first-rate and so are the kids in this genuinely terrifying suspenser.

"The Conjuring" is a harrowing haunted house heartstopper. See it, but not right before or after you move into a new house.


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