Certainly better than Lili Taylor’s previous high-profile, haunted house offering(1999’s dreadful remake of “The Haunting”), but still with a plateful of issues all its own. “The Conjuring” isn’t awful, but it’s mostly jump scares and creepy, obvious music. Plus, it chooses to wrap with a smarmy historical reference that really stuck in my craw(I won’t spoil it beyond that). There’s simply not much there there. And, of course, it carries that “based on a true story” baggage, so you’re always keenly aware that director James Wan is most likely amping everything up to the nth degree for dramatic effect. Hey, most of us by now have accepted that “The Amityville Horror” was a load of horse shit, so you have to work harder when providing its spiritual clone. And one point, when the beleaguered family first entered their new domicile, I was waiting for the iconic “Get OUTTTT”! Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes might as well have gone there—just about all of the other stops were pulled out, after all.
It’s 1971(love those retro-sideburns!), and the Perron family leaves the hubbub of city life to move into a fixer-upper farmhouse in Rhode Island. They have five young daughters that run the gamut from preschool to late teens, and a big, friendly dog(as Scooby would say, “rut roh!”)named Sadie. Almost immediately, the Perrons happen upon a boarded up basement room behind a closet wall and…well, you know the drill from here, right? Bumps in the night, demonic dolls, inexplicable cold drafts and increasing apparitions—a good many of us can write the script ourselves after this point. And just when Carolyn Perron(the always interesting Ms. Taylor)and husband Roger Perron(an okay, but unmemorable, Ron Livingston)seem to reach the end of their rope—here comes “ghostbusters”(c’mon, I wasn’t the only one who thought it!)Ed and Lorraine Warren to save the day! Ed Warren(a fine Patrick Wilson)is a “Demonologist” who can also perform exorcisms(hint, hint), and his wife Lorraine(the talented, gorgeous, and usually completed wasted, Vera Farmiga)is a clairvoyant and renowned spiritual medium. Then, faster than you can say “Boo!”, the Warrens are temporarily moving in with the Perron clan, along with a crew wielding their special paranormal-sensitive video and sound equipment. There’s also the expected complete sceptic, this time it’s a non-believing police officer(John Brotherton). Will good ultimately defeat the “evil” present in this house? Ho-hum.
It’s not a terrible way to waste 112 minutes, but even as recently as the 2013 remake of “Evil Dead”, we witnessed how this kind of thing could be done the right way. I couldn’t help but think, that by the denouement of “The Conjuring”, the “possessed” person would likely and reasonably have been arrested. Of course, the filmmakers decide not to embark on such a buzz kill story arc—we can’t let reality get in the way here! Director James Wan impressively injects the proceedings with a thriller-like tension and pace, and the film always looks great via John R. Leonetti’s cinematography. But if you’ve seen “Poltergeist”, or “The Exorcist”—heck, even last year’s much maligned “The Devil Inside”—then you won’t have to be a clairvoyant a la Lorraine Warren to detect the strong feeling of deja vu present. Comfortable because of its familiarity(I guess), this 317-million grossing smash(against a reported meager 20 million dollar budget)sucked in the mid-summer crowds in a big way. A sequel is apparently already in the works, with Farmiga and Wilson returning to the front. Can a Long Island visit be far off? Grade: C