THE STORY – In 1970, paranormal investigators and demonologists Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren are summoned to the home of Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) Perron. The Perrons and their five daughters have recently moved into a secluded farmhouse, where a supernatural presence has made itself known. Though the manifestations are relatively benign at first, events soon escalate in horrifying fashion, especially after the Warrens discover the house’s macabre history.
THE CAST – Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston & Lili Taylor
THE TEAM – James Wan (Director), Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 112 Minutes
By Josh Parham
Horror can be a fickle genre sometimes. There are many entries that give a tarnished reputation of bad acting and subpar filmmaking in the service of a cheaply produced product. Still, there are also brilliant additions that are excellent examples of what can be done in applying the anxiety that the genre indulges in and artfully recreating that for an engaged audience. Often times, mileage may vary when it comes to one’s personal enjoyment of horror films, and that seems quite applicable to the Conjuring franchise as well. For its inaugural entry, what’s presented is a film that finds itself between those two extremes while falling mostly on the side of positive.
The film peers into one of the case files of Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), two of the most famous, as well as infamous, paranormal investigators known today. This particular event took them to the home of the Perrons in 1971. The family of seven finds themselves endlessly tormented by a malevolent spirit that is plaguing their small Rhode Island home. Objects movie, ghosts appear and all sorts of other bumps in the night transpire as the Warrens battle for the family’s soul in a war against a hideous demon.
Credit should be paid to director James Wan for the attention he gives to a make the film feel most effective in its horror moments. While I have often lamented the overuse of jump scares in modern-day horror movies, there is a feeling that their implementation in this film feels a bit more precise; or at least used in a more effective context. The scares are built up more through quiet tension that is commendably shot and executed and a nice atmosphere is created that helps to present a very unnerving tone. Wan’s skills were present with the first Saw film as well, and they are on display here as well.
However, a lot of that goodwill does start to slip away by the end. Once the third act arrives, the film steers wildly into hyperbolic territory and the ending to the film indulges in over-the-top theatrics that are difficult to truly give yourself over to. It’s not that it is completely terrible, as there are many impressive set pieces that indulge in a great use of sounds and visual tricks. But it still feels a bit too much and rings false against the pattern of quiet tension it had previously utilized. The climax of the film felt more like a theme park ride, and in doing so does serve a purpose, but personally was a disappointment for a conclusion.
Typically, performances in horror films aren’t usually highlights, and I would argue it mostly fits the same here as well. The cast has a solid collection of talented actors but none of them really bring an extraordinary level of showcase here. I like the chemistry between Farmiga and Wilson, but they have clearly been much better in other work, and this material does not demand the most from them. Most of the members of the Perron family get lost in the shuffle, especially the father (Ron Livingston). The only actor who I feel deserves any kind of special mention is Lili Taylor, who plays Carolyn, the mother. She is the member of the family most affected by the haunting and her commitment to being tormented in all sorts of ways is very compelling. It reminded me of another horror film in which she was the standout: the 1999 remake of The Haunting. Thankfully this is a better movie than that, but it is still a reminder of her immense talent as an actor, even in genres that don’t typically present that opportunity.
There is also one element in the film that I think is important to address. Like many films, this comes with the description of being “based on a true story.” It is easy to dismiss that claim as it accompanies so many films of varying kinds. However, it does play into the history of the Warrens, who are themselves controversial figures. It can be difficult to separate the personal feelings one has about this couple, and the questionable ethics by which they operate, with the wholesale entertainment value of the film. This complication is further amplified by the aforementioned hyperbolic ending. It’s a difficult pursuit to find that line, and while the film does a good enough job to attempt to make an entertaining film, it’s still hard to dismiss this promotion of these two entirely.
As mentioned, one’s reaction to this film depends on how much one personally responds to horror movies, especially in this modern age. There’s plenty to be taken in by for sure. It’s a well-crafted film and the scares are overall effective. The real trouble lies in the finale where it goes too over the top and becomes uninteresting. The performances are nothing to be overjoyed with, but they are serviceable enough with a few exceptions. There’s a lot worse you could do when it comes to the genre, but this one is still a worthy entry that is effective for what it sets out to accomplish.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Effectively creepy atmosphere. Decent performances, especially from Lili Taylor and good craftsmanship from the filmmaking
THE BAD – Gets uninteresting by the third act. Shallow characters.
THE OSCARS – None
THE FINAL SCORE – 7/10