This probably isn’t the best way to start a sex ed class.

Theatrical Release Date: 07/19/2013
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver
Rated: R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes


That’s a really large cocktail umbrella.

I am completely over the trend of “torture porn” horror movies. You know the ones, like Saw and Hostel, where the main source of fear comes from gruesome scenes full of people mutilating other people and squeezing lemons directly into their wounds. Yuck and a half. I enjoy a good evisceration when it comes from a demon or a monster or even a crazed serial killer, but I don’t have the stomach for watching gore with no thought behind it.

The Conjuring is directed by James Wan, who created the Saw franchise, but luckily has a different M.O. than his most famous creation. Instead of inundating the audience with blood and guts, it relies more on horror movie standards in the vein of Poltergeist and The Exorcist where less is more (though don’t kid yourself, it’s not on par with those two gems). By no means does this film reinvent the horror movie wheel, but it does a pretty good job of executing the basics. Good, old fashioned creaky floorboards, slamming doors and creepy-ass dolls that make the audience jump in their seats (sincerely — my cousin accompanied me and spent much of the film practically in my lap). It’s almost refreshing.

Based on the true life exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the ghost hunting couple whose story inspired The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring depicts the haunting of a house in Rhode Island occupied by the charming Perron family. Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) have moved their five daughters into a new home and the misadventures begin almost immediately.

Their clocks all stop at the same time on their first night there and the family dog refuses to go any further than the front porch. These things don’t immediately strike fear into their hearts, but the eerie happenings quickly spiral out of control. Their youngest daughter has an imaginary friend who she summons using a creepy music box, spooky handclapping is heard from the most random of places and the basement is full of sinister-looking antiques that might as well be neon bar signs flashing “Get Out While You Still Can!” Carolyn keeps waking up with mysterious bruises on her body and the girls are sleepwalking and being terrorized by something under their beds.

It doesn’t take long before they’re all sleeping in the living room, desperate for help. Enter Ed and Lorraine (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), a demonologist and a clairvoyant, respectively. They’ve seen it all and aren’t in the house two minutes before they recognize something is very wrong and there is no quick fix available. Everyone is soon frantically trying to expel the malevolent entity in their midst before it is too late.

Lili Taylor is an actress in the “that girl who was in that thing” vein; she’s been in all sorts of stuff over the last 20 years, but you can never quite remember what that might have been. She has a very plain sort of attractiveness, which is just the thing for portraying this real life mom fighting for her soul and for her family. Livingston and his gaggle of on-screen girls back her up perfectly as mystified victims of paranormal torment. Farmiga and Wilson are both appropriately sober as seasoned occultists who feel for the afflicted family. The combination of fine performances with crafty camerawork and classic foreboding all add up to a thoroughly good time at the movies. This could well turn out to be one of the best horror movies of the year – it isn’t trying to be overtly clever or explicitly macabre. It’s simply scary and, as it turns out, that’s more than enough.

4 out of 5