July 18--With "Saw," director James Wan showed that he could create terror using buckets of blood and violence. With "The Conjuring," he shows he can create just as many scares merely using things that go bump -- or in this case clap -- in the night.
Don't be shocked if you decide to leave a light on after seeing this based-on-a true-story movie.
How do you know this movie is scary? It originally was set to open in the late winter, early spring, a less competitive movie release period. But after test audiences reacted so strongly, the opening date was moved to go head-to-head with the big blockbusters of summer.
"The Conjuring" doesn't have the big special effects of its summer competition, but it is an old-fashioned scary movie that uses every dark corner as a source of scream-inducing frights. Don't see this movie by yourself.
The movie is set in the early 1970s. The Perron family finds what seems to be a great home in the country. What they don't realize is that the house needs a good cleansing to get rid of a demon. After strange and unusual events begin to pile up, Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) turn to a pair of professional demon fighters in Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren.
So many horror movies do little more than create a check list of victims to get eliminated before the final credits. This script has more depth. Screenwriter brothers Chad and Carey Hayes create people to sympathize with, which makes the evil being done to them feel more real.
Both couples deal with their own issues, whether it be the struggles to survive financially or spiritually. Since the story doesn't float along on a river of blood, there is time for the characters to deal with these issues. This is particularly important in the case of the Warrens. They are portrayed as a husband-and-wife team who have a really weird job, not as eccentric scam artists.
Wan was smart enough to cast four talented actors to play the roles.
Farmiga always finds a way to play characters who are both delicate and tough, while Wilson has made a career out of characters dealing with deep angst. No one can show more painful emotion with one look than Wilson.
Livingston provides a solid anchor, but it's Taylor who sells the movie. Her reactions to unusual events are so real that it draws the viewer into each scene. It's as if we are standing in the room where the temperature dramatically drops or trying to calm down her young children who have stared into the face of evil.
The human element is important. But the movie's strength is in the way Wan plays out the scary moments. There's a game of clap hide-and-go-seek that results in one of the scariest moments in recent horror film history. It works because Wan knows exactly when to build the momentum of terror and when to give the audience a chance to fall back into a false sense of security.
"The Conjuring" proves that the right director, script and actors can make a movie that's scarier than hell without having to resort to the now trite tricks of blood and gore.
"The Conjuring," rated R for scary scenes, language. Stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor. Directed by James Wan. Running time: 112 minutes. Grade: B+
Theaters and times
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.
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