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'The Conjuring' looks to benefit from summer counter programming with creaky, creepy horror flick

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Just about every horror bell and whistle on the haunted house checklist has been ticked in the new horror movie The Conjuring.  After garnering massive steam from positive test screenings, Warner Bros decided to release the film in the dead of summer in a ballsy marketing movie. Director James Wan, who is no slouch to genre (Saw anyone?) helms the picture which is a sturdy, if distractingly unoriginal scare machine.Photo: Warner Bros.

The film revolves around real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The husband and wife team have certainly stirred up their share of controversy throughout the years; some have even publicly declared them as frauds. They’re work has also been the subject of various horror flicks in the past, including The Amityville Horror and Haunting in Connecticut. The case which this film revolves around however, has been locked away until now.

The haunting in “The Conjuring” takes place in a ominous old house with hidden passageways and a cobweb infested cellar. The evil spirits within find their next victims in the Perron family, who nab the property on a deal from the bank. Soon after the move in, strange occurrences start to unfold, not limited to sudden perfunctory odors, clocks stopping at the same time every night, and strange noises. At first the ghosts plague the children, but it becomes clear that mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor) is certainly on the demon’s hit list as well.  

The remainder of the film revolves around a bland Ed and Lorraine stepping into the picture, who use various methods to identify and drive out the evil forces. Director Wan has never been one for originality and during this time jumps into haunted house cliché overload. Creaky houses, flocks of evil birds, loud music cues, crucifixes, holy water, and exorcisms are all in attendance here. Wan also cribs (or homages) from some of the great 70’s horror flicks such as The Changeling, Amityville Horror, and The Exorcist, while also heavily borrowing from his recent hit Insidious.

 

That said, The Conjuring isn’t a bad scary movie; it’s just an acceptable one, rather than an exceptional one. The film is beautifully shot, perfectly capturing the late 70s feel. Wan’s method of building tension is also old school; slow and steady gets the scare.  As the strange occurrences slowly become more and more malevolent, the director tightens the tension screws, resulting in some serious palpable dread. This makes for an effectively creepy, sometimes shocking experience. There’s also a very effective subplot incorporating the “Annabelle Doll”, one of the terrifying toys that’s also a real life staple of the Warren’s paranormal history. 

  The Conjuring has been garnering praise for months, as well as critical acclaim leading up to its release. Sadly, films of this ilk are bound to result in some degree of disappointment. This may be a well-polished orchestrated scare machine in a sea of mediocre horror movies, but denoting it a horror classic is a bit exaggerated. Still, if audiences are willing to overlook the similarity to Wan’s Insidious as well as the slow and steady burn The Conjuring incorporates, there’s fun to be had in this haunted house.

 

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Photo: Warner Bros.