"The Conjuring" is perhaps best thought of as a Girl Talk track: There's nothing new or original about it, but it's entertaining enough, and one can't help but respect the craft that went into making something catchy out of component parts stolen from others.
Happily lifting scenes and ideas from previous cheapo horror flicks like "The Amityville Horror," "The Last Exorcism," "The Woman in Black," "Paranormal Activity" and others too numerous to count, "The Conjuring" is far from "brilliant," as Variety's Justin Chang described it. But it is an effectively scary horror flick that uses the cliches it employs to impressive effect.
Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) have bought a creaky old house in the Rhode Island countryside. They and their five children are eager to move in and explore the new digs — which include a boarded-up basement filled with detritus. And creaky doors that open of their own volition. And clocks that stop at the exact same time every night.
And, you know, demons.
As Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) helpfully explain in one of several exposition-laden lectures on the paranormal we see them they deliver, the Perrons are enduring the classic signs of a paranormal experience: infestation, oppression, and possession. As the activity ramps up — from stopped clocks to leg-pulling in the dead of night to actual demonic possession — the family and their new ghost-busting pals desperately hunt for a way to stop the evil.
Director James Wan ("Saw," "Insidious") effectively ramps up the tension, walking the audience through the familiar steps with brisk aplomb. It's telling that even when the audience knows something is about to happen — a spook in a mirror, a demon in the darkness, mysterious sets of hands clapping — the filmmakers still managed to get a reaction. Many lines of dialogue went unheard as a result of audience members cathartically laughing in an effort to release the tension.
(Others were lost at the screening I attended because audience members were talking to the screen. As a reminder, folks: Filmgoing is not an interactive experience, and you are not nearly as clever as you think you are. When you're in a theater filled with people, please zip it.)
"The Conjuring" is aimed squarely at the segment of the population that goes to see all such horror films. Hollywood keeps churning them out because they keep making money: Produced for around $13 million, "The Conjuring" is all but guaranteed to gross somewhere between $50 and $60 million. It's as close to a sure thing as there is in Hollywood.
But sure things breed timidity and complacency. Why push the boundaries when you can just throw together a stew that rips off all the other popular products, serve it to customers, and watch the dollars pour in?
"The Conjuring" is a fine film for what it is and will entertain audiences content to endure the same scares over and over again. Those searching for something different, however, will likely leave a little disappointed.
(Sonny Bunch is the manging editor of the Washington Free Beacon, where the digital version of this review first appeared.)
TITLE: "The Conjuring"
CREDITS: Directed by James Wan; written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes
RATING: Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror
RUNNING TIME: 112 Minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS