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Movie Review: “The Conjuring”

Jul 182013
 By , July 18, 2013

The Conjuring

“The Conjuring” — a film review by Gary Chew

I usually laugh as much or more watching a creepy spook movie than one that intends to elicit laughter. “The Conjuring,” a new film from “Saw” director James Wan, is a prime example.

Of course, suppressed giggles watching a creepy show are routinely punctuated by loud, piercing screams whenever the grotesque face in a movie finally and suddenly fills the screen flashing a menacing smile toward a vulnerable character.

The Conjuring

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in Warner Bros’ “The Conjuring.”

There’s lots of that in this conjuring. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play a husband/wife team that works haunting situations — much like “The X-Files” Mulder and Scully once addressed our alien abductions for us, except that the ghost-busting performed by Ed and Lorraine Warren is (according to the Warrens) factual, not fabricated to merely spook. Another possibility for difference is that the “X-Files” duo was somewhat more secular than the Warrens are portrayed “In the Conjuring.”

It’s the early ’70s and Mr. and Mrs. Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) have just taken occupancy of an old, isolated home in Rhode Island with their five young, lovely, innocent daughters (does this sound familiar?). You can tell by the music on the soundtrack — and because the Perrons’ dog won’t go inside the new place — that stuff ain’t what it ought to be in this rambling, two-story home with gaunt-looking, big trees in the front yard (yes, it does sound familiar).

Mr. Wan, start your spooking.

So he does, and keeps it up for maybe longer than necessary, before the first payoff of getting to scream your guts out comes. The director clearly wants everyone to be well-tensed for the first shriek, which is bound to rush from the many pairs of lungs in the auditorium. Much of my vocal energy, albeit, had already been diffused by the chortles that preceded.

The Conjuring

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston.

At base, “The Conjuring” is family picture, but … and I stress this … not for the young members of any family, especially the really younger ones. And there is NO sex or blue language making that so.

The exorcism scene in the Perron basement — which looks much like where Norman Bates’s mother sits yet in her rocker — till the end of time — is really quite enough … even for grownups. You’ll never see Lili Taylor doing another scene like this, whatever movies she might make.

Oh boy, where are William Peter Blatty and Linda Blair when we really need them? (That was 1973, by the way.)

In the final third of “The Conjuring,” the ghost-seeking Warrens are depicted filming and recording stunts that the demon is pulling in the Perron home. It’s not clear if the Warrens had a deal with a cable program production company to do this. It seems to me that clips of the unusual events would have been well-employed in Wan’s movie, considerably validating a Rhode Island ghost story that’s pitched as “fact-based.”

The best spot for those visuals to play is after authentic still photos of the Warrens and Perrons flash along with closing credits and a quote of dark prose by Ed Warren that, for me, brought neither a chuckle nor grin.

Anyone for a picnic just a short way southwest from Harrisville to Amityville?

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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