News Column

Opening this weekend [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]

July 19, 2013


"The Conjuring"

Rated R by the Motion Picture Associaton of American for sequences of disturbing violence and terror. 112 minutes. HHH1/2

Old-school and supremely confident in its attack, "The Conjuring" is this year's miracle - an "Amityville Horror" for a new century (and a far better movie than that 1979 hit), yet firmly rooted, without being slavish or self-conscious, in the visual language of 1970s filmmaking.

Also like "The Amityville Horror," "The Conjuring" derives from an alleged true-life haunting, this one in rural Rhode Island, at an old house where terrible things happened and are happening still. The relative restraint of "The Conjuring" is a surprise given that the director, James Wan, made the first of the "Saw" films. A more apt reference point is Wan's recent, slow-simmer horror outing "Insidious," which, like "The Conjuring," took its time in establishing the ground rules.

The script by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes blends the tales of two families under extreme duress. Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life ghost hunters played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, investigate the strange goings-on in the riverside farmhouse owned by a family of seven (two parents, five daughters) headed by Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor). Warning signs and troubling details abound, but subtly, in the opening sequences. The family dog won't go inside. The clocks stop every night at 3:07 a.m. Unexplained bruises appear on the mother's body, and one of the daughters complains of someone tugging at her feet in bed. Then the ghost of a long-dead child appears to one of the girls in a mirror. The miserably out-of-tune piano found in the cellar plays itself.

The movie belongs to the women, for once, and "The Conjuring" doesn't exploit or mangle the female characters in the usual ways. Farmiga, playing a true believer, makes every spectral sighting and human response matter; Taylor is equally fine, and when she's playing a "hide-and-clap" blindfold game with her girls, she's like a kid herself, about to get the jolt of her life.


Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges portray deceased lawmen who keep the peace from beyond the grave - the odd-couple partners protect the living from malevolent spirits who refuse to go quietly into the afterlife.

But shortly before the $130-million sci-fi action-comedy reaches theaters, "R.I.P.D.'s" vital signs are showing about as much of a pulse as the lifeless "Deados" that Bridges and Reynolds battle.

Unlike some of the other big duds from the schools-out season, "R.I.P.D." has flown mostly under the incoming bomb radar, a consequence largely of coming out in the shadow of "The Lone Ranger."

But its likely underachievement dramatizes how the summer has been sharply divided between the haves and the have-nots: Rarely has there been so wide a gulf between movies that worked and those that didn't.

Chatter about the film on social media has been largely derisive, with numerous Twitter posters pointing out perceived similarities to another supernatural buddy-cop franchise, "Men in Black," the Bill Murray comedy "Ghostbusters" and Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy" movies.

"Just saw the trailer for the new Men in Black movie," Wil - Anderson tweeted this month. "For some weird reason they seem to have renamed it RIPD."

Universal, assuming that negative reviews will do little to enhance the film's box office prospects, is declining to show "R.I.P.D." to journalists and critics until just hours before its theatrical release. None of the filmmakers were made available to be interviewed for this article.

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