Monday, July 29, 2013

The Conjuring: A Review and A Deeper Look


One of this summer's surprise hits at the box-office (taking in over 80 million during its opening week) was The Conjuring, a supernatural thriller based on truish events.

Based on a case file from famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Wilson, The Conjuring tells the story of the Perron family that has just moved into a secluded New Jersey farm house only to find themselves slowly tormented by a host of pernicious spirits. The Warrens are called in and all hell breaks loose, culminating in the possession of Mrs. Perron by the vengeful spirit of a Salem-era witch.

The film's scares are at their best when executed with a deft, subtle hand--literally. The sudden, unexpected hand claps from a frolicking phantom child wanting to join the Perron children in a game like Hide-n-seek meets Marco Polo (but with clapping hands) creates some of the most frightening pucker moments. Not since High School Musical has clapping been so terrifying.

However, when chairs are hurled through space to crash near-miss style at the wall and young ladies are dragged by their hair across a living room floor, it all begins to look a little more slapstick than sinister.

The film features a fresh score that more effectively borrows the droning bass blasts that were born in Spielberg's War of the Worlds before making it big in Christopher Nolan's Inception. The device has since become cliche in countless action films and thrillers, but Joseph Bishara's score works in sparingly a new take on the motif.

The direction is solid and the editing is tight with inventive pans from the camera (it gets a little roller-coastery now and then). A good cast featuring Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, and Patrick Wilson lends gravitas to the script, which is by no means threadbare. Earning an 85% over at, The Conjuring shows that it stands head and shoulder above previous offerings in this genre, including The Woman in Black, The Awakening, and Insidious.

But the real set-apart for this film is undoubtedly its based-on-a-true-story origins, which lends The Conjuring an added layer of frightening verisimilitude beyond the terror that is its well-saturated 70s pastiche. There are just some clothes we don't need to see again.


Ed and Lorraine Warren were a real life couple famous for their investigations of demonic activity, hauntings, and ghosts. Ed was a self-styled demonologist and his wife Lorraine professed clairvoyant and mediumistic talents.

Through their New England Society for Psychic Research, which they founded in 1952, the pair investigated some of the most sensational cases of the last few decades, including the controversial Amityville haunting. From many of the 10,000 cases the couple examined in their career, they collected charged objects, or items imbued with psychic energy and demonic spirits. These were kept in their Occult Museum. Later, the couple's nephew, John Zaffis, would add his own contribution to this growing collection of paranormal artifacts via his work, as exemplified in the SyFy reality program, Haunted Collector.

The Warrens are not without controversy. Much of what transpired in the Amityville case has been refuted by others in witness to the events. Some researchers have even deemed the entire incident a hoax based on statements made by William Weber, a compatriot of Jay Anson who literally wrote the book on the Amityville Horror. Another case of the Warrens, which was written about by Ray Garton, centered around the Snedeker family in Southington, Connecticut. However, when Garton tried to interview the family about their claims, he found conflicting accounts and erratic behavior seeming to stem from an environment of alcoholism and drug addiction.

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