DVD Release Date: October 22, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: July 19, 2013
Rating: Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Run Time: 112 minutes
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Kyla Deaver

"There’s something horrible happening in my house," Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor, Being Flynn) confides. "I have five daughters who are scared to death."

If you're the sort who enjoys hair-raising stories of creepy dolls, apparitions, demonic oppression and possession, and a multitude of other skin-tingling situations, then you’ll love The Conjuring. Reportedly based on a true story, this scary movie really is—as the squealing, whimpering crowd at the screening I attended will attest. (In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I watched parts of this movie through one squinted eye and occasionally concentrated on taking notes in order to avoid looking at the screen).

Set in Rhode Island in 1971, The Conjuring introduces the Perron family as they move into their dream home, a lovely old farmhouse in the country. A nice young couple with five daughters ranging from teen to toddler, the Perrons look forward to enjoying their new home. Problem is, they're not the only ones who live there. It isn't long before the other occupants make themselves known. Young April (newcomer Kyla Deaver) finds an imaginary playmate who isn't so imaginary. There really is a monster hiding in the closet. The things that (literally) go bump in the night might just kill them.

One of the most disturbing things about the demonic activity in the Perrons' house—other than the fact that it exists at all—is that so much of it is focused on the children. The girls are terrorized in their beds, thrown around the room, and threatened by spirits who tell them it "wants my family dead." However, it's Mom Carolyn who gets the worst of it. She's a good woman trying to keep her brood safe in the worst possible circumstances. She’s willing to try anything... which is where the Warrens come in.

The Warrens are a pair of "demonologists" who go about helping people who are having issues of the paranormal kind. The Conjuring is said to be based on the case files of this real-life couple who were also portrayed in The Amityville Horror. Ed (Patrick Wilson, The Switch) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air) view their work as a calling. "God brought us together for a reason," Lorraine tells her husband, "and this is it." Both devout Catholics, Ed is an expert on demons whose work is respected by clergy while Lorraine has a certain "sensitivity" that gives her discernment into the spirit world. Fully aware of the danger, Ed and Lorraine agree to help the Perrons battle the evil that inhabits their home and torments their family.

Speaking of religion, you may have noticed the faith-based marketing strategy of this movie. It's true that the Warrens try to get rid of the demons through Scripture and commands to come out in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They also debunk "friendly ghost" foolishness by outing spirits as demonic presences, so in a way this is a faith-based film. However, it's also scary, violent, and filled with images that I don't think anyone really needs to see in order to verify that God is more powerful than demons.

It's all standard horror film stuff, right down to the ominously creaking doors (a little WD-40 would go a long way on those hinges). Sometimes those classic situations lead to advice from the audience, which of course the characters onscreen ignore. Must scary movie characters always do the same dumb things? Everyone in the theater knew better than to explore the dark, creepy basement in the middle of the night. But never mind, it's part of the genre. There are plenty of jump-out-of-your-skin moments here. Their impact is a testament to the skill of the director, with a special shout out the lighting and photography. Shadows are practically characters in themselves and the quality of the photography acts like a window into the seventies. Plus, all the actors make their beleaguered characters such likable folks the audience is rooting for them to win over the forces of darkness.

Naturally, the spirits in the house don't take kindly to the Warren's interference and things get ugly fast. With Ed and Lorraine firmly on God's side and the creepies clearly on the other, it's a battle to save not just a family's home, but their souls. "We're not really a churchgoing family," Roger Perron (Ron Livingston, Music Within) confesses. To which Ed replies, "You may want to rethink that."

After watching The Conjuring, shaken members of the audience may want to take Ed's advice.

CAUTIONS (contains spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Only prescription drugs, nothing abused.
  • Language/Profanity: A couple of da** and he**; one scene has a few exclamations of “God da** it” and the demons are said to be “pi**ed off” by religious artifacts.
  • Sex/Nudity: Married couple has a loaded conversation about "breaking in the house" as they go to bed and when the woman discovers a bruise the next morning she asks if he "did that to her."
  • Violent/Frightening/Intense:  Note the rating - the majority of the movie is violent, frightening, and intense. Demons and demon-possessed individuals are shown multiple times. Figures are shown in the shadows and not shown at all but felt by the children who are grabbed by them. Much of the demonic activity is aimed at the children, who are clearly in danger. A possessed woman chases after her child with the intent to kill. A dead, rotting body is seen hanging (and then swings at a live person). A presence flies through a window and bruises a woman. A woman is possessed, levitated, attacks people, spontaneously bleeds, and eventually vomits out black bile. Taken as a whole, this film is in no way suitable for young viewers and even adults mentioned concern at being able to sleep after watching it.
  • Spiritual Themes: This is a story of demonic oppression and possession. The Warrens fight back with Scripture and a prayer book. They mention that a priest comes by their house on a regular basis to bless it, partly to counteract the museum of possessed items they have in their home (the idea being it’s better to keep all that stuff in a ‘safe’ place rather than bouncing around outside spreading evil). Ed explains that demons often do things like bang doors in threes as an insult to the Trinity. The original source of the Perron's problems is said to be a witch who sacrificed her own child. Lorraine says, "She used her God-given gift as the ultimate offense against Him." On the plus side, the film shows demonic activity as real, serious, and nothing to play with; in the end God wins. On the minus side, why would anyone want to have these images and sounds in their head?

Publication date: July 19, 2013