Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. Based on the true life story, The Conjuring tells the tale of how world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most horrifying case of their lives.
Director James Wan made a splash in the horror genre with Saw
, a rather ingenious midnight movie that spawned a legion of splattery imitators. Rather than continue in that overtly grody mode, however, Wan chose to move on, with a series of films (most notably Dead Silence
) that showed a healthy appreciation of the classics in the field, as well as a gratifying progression of skills behind the camera. The Conjuring
stands as the moment when Wan puts it all together, fashioning a terrifically freaky haunted-house movie that respects its audience, even when it's busy finding new ways to launch them out of their seats. Based on ostensibly true events, the film works as something of a thesis on scary movies, featuring all of the essential elements--a creaky door here, a scary doll there, dark corners, well, everywhere--as well as a command of old-school pacing. Unlike the majority of in-your-face modern horror, it knows when to hold back, and when to go for absolute broke. Chad and Carey Hayes's script follows Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), a pair of married paranormal investigators dealing with the increasing mental toll of their profession. When they take on the case of a haunted Connecticut farmhouse, their misgivings come to a terrifying head. And then some. Wan gets some fantastic performances from his cast, particularly from the alternately steely and fragile Farmiga, and Lili Taylor, whose inspired work here more than compensates for her appearance in the misguided remake of The Haunting
. Together, they make it unnervingly easy to believe in the things in the shadows. The most impressive element of The Conjuring
, though, ultimately proves to be its utter relentlessness, steadily cranking the screws without resorting to easy jump scares to tone down the tension. While always playing fair, it qualifies as one of those rare scary movies that put the viewer through the absolute wringer, without leaving them feeling ill-used at the end. Prepare to jump. --Andrew Wright