The Conjuring

The Conjuring

2013, R, 111 min. Directed by James Wan. Starring Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 19, 2013

The Conjuring uses every parlor trick imaginable to scare up a scream: deafening door-slams, ghostly apparitions, demonic cackling, levitating chairs. The seen-it-all-before elements of this supernatural thriller directed by the filmmaker who gave us Saw, however, are more hoary than horrific. It might as well be retitled The Amityville Exorcist.

Purportedly based on a true story – aren’t they all? – the film largely takes place in the haunted Rhode Island farmhouse recently inhabited by the Perron family. The spooks waste no time terrorizing Roger (Livingston), Carolyn (Taylor), and their five daughters in the new home with the mysteriously boarded-up basement. (Clue No. 1, followed by Clue No. 2: the family dog that refuses to enter the house.) Soon, things don’t merely go bump in the night; they crash, boom, and clatter with the volume turned way up. The preternatural funny business escalates as unseen hands tug on sleeping bodies, and the dead make spectral appearances. Enter husband-and-wife paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga), to cleanse the house of the demonic spirit that possesses mothers to kill their young, just as it did centuries ago. Before you know it, crucifixes are bared and the holy water is flying as the fiercely Catholic Warrens engage in holy battle with straight-out-of-hell evil. The power of Christ – or something along those lines – is needed to compel a straight face during all of this ear-splitting nonsense.

Aside from its blatant thievery, the bedeviled The Conjuring falls short for other reasons, most notably as a result of an odd narrative structure in which the Perrons and the Warrens vie for the audience’s sympathies. When the film diverts attention to the latter in an unnecessary sequence involving a creepy doll named Annabelle, any momentum achieved by the indiscriminate events in the haunted household is irretrievably lost. At this point, the film almost stops dead in its tracks, only to be dragged kicking and screaming to conclusion by a series of events damaging its credibility as a true story. The Conjuring wants it both ways, alleging veracity to legitimize its premise and then using familiar (read: overused) tactics to scare the bejesus out of you. It’s enough to make your head turn 360 degrees.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More James Wan Films
Malignant
Homage to giallo is fun, but is it good?

Jenny Nulf, Sept. 17, 2021

Aquaman
The underwater superhero brings long-awaited color to DC's films

Matthew Monagle, Dec. 21, 2018

More by Steve Davis
Vortex
French cinema’s enfant terrible faces the horrors of growing old

May 6, 2022

The Aviary
Desert-set cult drama is a little dry

April 29, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Conjuring, James Wan, Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle