Full of atmosphere and ghostly goodness, the only thing that doesn’t seem to make any sense is the title.
In 1971, Carolyn and Roger Parren (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) move their family into an old Rhode Island farmhouse and begin to experience ghostly activity. With all of their money tied up in the home and nowhere else to go, they contact paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) for help. As their investigation turns up evidence from not only the farmhouse but the surrounding area as well, the Warrens will be taken to task against the responsible entity before both the Parren family and their own are claimed as its latest victims.
There are overtones of Poltergeist here as well as a dozen other paranormal investigation films, but this one seems to balance it right, coupling atmosphere with unusually solid portrayals that immediately make us feel and fear for the characters being terrorized. The story itself is reportedly based upon the case files of the Warrens themselves, the real-life investigators portrayed in the movie. Both psychological and horrific elements are employed in this R-rated film, and the cast grounds the early seventies time period with the perfect level of believability to carry the film to its conclusion. It’s just too bad no one could come up with a better title, because “conjuring” appears to be the last mystical thing going on around these parts.
This is an ensemble cast of both investigators and a family under siege, but what sets it apart is the Warrens. We’re shown what they do and how they feel about, taking every precaution and warning others about their discoveries. Unlike The Last Exorcism, you never get the feeling that they’re schemers or opportunists; the Warrens feel more like going to a kindly country preacher and his wife to discuss a wavering in faith. The empathy and charity of these two individuals was a surprise, but the victimized family pulls their weight, too. This impending sense of doom coming down on people who haven’t done anything to deserve it carries weight, and that’s important when you’re talking about God and demons.
A North Carolina shooting location is substituted in for the Rhode Island location, but before you go questioning whether there are swamps in Rhode Island, it’s actually true. The house itself is always a character in these films, and this one is no exception, from secret passages and haunted toys to a basement full of things you don’t want falling on or through you. Still, the title seems a bit silly; why not The Cursing, The Possession, Meet the Warrens, Strange Case #97, or even A Haunting in Rhode Island? Maybe Hollywood is running out of short titles, but it can feel free to keep putting out movies like this that ignite the imagination instead of insulting our paranormally active intelligence.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)