Lorraine Warren is a familiar name if you're at least somewhat aware of the paranormal world. She's worked on many supernatural cases throughout the years; she had some appearances on Paranormal State and the like when there was a huge boom of ghost hunting shows, and she's documented her work in the Amityville case quite publicly. The Conjuring is the story of Lorraine and Ed, a couple portrayed as demonologists who sought to help those in need by taking away haunted objects and hoarding them in a creepy museum.
Directed by James Wan (Saw, Insidious, Dead Silence), the film is based upon a true story the Warrens encountered in their years of demonology. Source material aside, Wan has taken his knowledge of paranormal films and coupled it with real-life legends of demonology. In the film, Lorraine and Ed undertake a haunting/exorcism involving a couple and their five daughters living in a house fraught with turbulent deaths. The Perron family recently moved into the home after they bought it from a bank auction, and they quickly find a boarded up cellar that harbors some really dark secrets. Their dog dies, their children become terrified by things opening doors and pulling their legs in the night, and the Perrons turn to the Warrens for help after Carolyn (Lili Taylor) catches one of their lectures at a college.
Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) has recently come off some downtime from the last haunted house they explored; she had encountered something that shook her to the very core, and Ed (Patrick Wilson) has tried to limit her in the paranormal world as much as possible. Carolyn's case sounds intense, though, and the couple readily agree to the study.
What follows is two hours of shocks in the dark corners of the house - creeping doors, bumps in the night, sudden appearances by ghosts - that have been done before in many degrees by films that precede The Conjuring by more than a decade. But that doesn't mean that the film fails to scare up its own brand of taut tension; Wan works hard to keep the tale moving, often jumping between the Warren family and the Perrons to help build a satisfying story while keeping the fluid movement and suspense. Wan has paced the film so well that the two hours seems to fly by, and there is rarely a ten minute span before the movie returns to the moody atmosphere of night exploration in the house.
The problem with the scares lies in the fact that Wan uses a lot of familiar techniques. If you've seen Insidious, you can expect to find the same sort of jumps and demon faces of that film. And if you caught Dead Silence, Wan revisits his fascination with dolls, at least in small part, in The Conjuring.
The Conjuring could have been much creepier, however, had Wan left out some of his more explicit scares. The makeup and effects, the corny whispers of "Look what she made me do!", don't affect as much as the quiet moments of dark exploration and slow anticipation. It's unfortunate The Conjuring doesn't spend more time keeping these scenes in the forefront instead of trying to branch out with fake demon faces.
Though not too noteworthy, The Conjuring is still a fun paranormal film, and it makes better use of the formula than most films that have come out lately within the sub-genre. Though it doesn't manage to conjure up too many scares for the initiated viewer, the main draw here is Wan's slow development of the characters. His portrayal of Ed and Lorraine is gentle, nearly an homage to two people whose lives have influenced countless horror films, some better and most worse than this one.
The Conjuring on Rotten Tomatoes