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Lifestyle

July 18, 2013

‘The Conjuring' is haunting, in all the best ways

Haunted house movies only work if the people in the house are worth scaring.

Sounds stupid, but it’s true, although let’s be honest: Real estate is inherently frightening. You put all that money in and only Satan knows if it’ll turn out to be a decent investment, or if you’ll be able to afford what it takes to repair any undisclosed matters of basement seepage.

The quirks and creaks of an old house are always good for gallows humor or a cold shot of dread. As I write this the fridge in our new/old residence is softly moaning like a distant foghorn. Is it the way the appliance sits on a slightly askew kitchen floor? Is it demonic?

When a really good new horror film comes out — something more about creative intelligence than executing the next grisly kill shot — it’s something of a miracle in this eviscerating post-“Saw” era. 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).

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