‘The Conjuring” provides its audience with a checklist of ways to know if you’re living in a haunted house. Dog turns up dead, check. Previous owner boarded up the basement, check. Doors constantly creaking open, check. Birds flying into the side of the house, check. Your wife keeps getting unexplained bruises during the night, check. One of your daughters sleepwalks, check. Another one of your daughters sees a creepy figure at night, check. Another one of your daughters has a play date with a little dead boy, check. Personally, I would have packed my bags and hit the road after the dog got the axe, but that’s just me.
In this alleged true story, Ron Livingston is Roger Perron and Lili Taylor is Carolyn Perron. They’re a loving couple with five daughters, played by Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver. It’s the 1970s and the Perrons have just bought a seemingly innocent farmhouse in the country. As they consult the haunted house checklist provided above, however, they begin to realize that their home might be infested with ghosts and demons.
The Perrons call upon Ed Warren, played by Patrick Wilson, and Lorraine Warren, played by Vera Farmiga, who is perfection as Mrs. Bates on “Bates Motel.” Ed is a specialist in everything paranormal and Lorraine can make connections with the dead through her sixth sense. They claim that God brought them together to help those being terrorized by things that go bump in the night. After a thorough inspection, the Warrens determine that the Perrons’ house is in need of a good, old-fashion exorcism.
This is far from the first exorcism movie that claims to be based on actual events. “The Conjuring” doesn’t throw us a ton of curveballs or revolutionize this genre. If you’ve seen “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “The Devil Inside,” “The Possession,” oh yeah, and “The Exorcist,” you’re going to see several key plot points coming from a mile away. The film also isn’t without some easy scares and a couple really idiotic character moments. There’s one scene where one of these guys literally sees a ghost and chooses to follow it into a dark, empty room. RUN, YOU FOOL, RUN!
Even if it’s not that original, though, there are a few elements that elevate “The Conjuring” above all the other “Exorcist” wannabes. For starters, the film both looks and sounds great, often creating a genuinely chilling atmosphere even when you know the scares are coming. Livingston, Taylor, Wilson, Farmiga, and the five young actresses all do a wonderful job at being frightened. The relationship between Farmiga and Wilson is especially strong and surprisingly a little touching at times. Director James Wan’s previous credits include “Saw,” which I despised, and “Insidious,” which I liked all right. “The Conjuring” falls into the same league of “Insidious,” a good, but not great, horror flick with some fun thrills and solid characters.
There’s just one factor in the film that never really amounts to much, a creepy doll that’s seen in the beginning and briefly in the third act. Walking out the theater, you can’t help but wonder what purpose this doll served to the plot at all. Maybe Wan just had a puppet leftover from “Dead Silence” and he didn’t want to see it go to waste.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.