The Conjuring

Updated: 12 Aug 2013

Time Out says

Rating: 5/5

Dir: James Wan (2013, 112 min). Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston

So much is thrown at us by today’s hyperventilating horror that stillness has become the scariest move. Actually, that’s always been the case, but it takes a retro-fashioned winner like The Conjuring to remind us that if the creaky, old house ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Styled like a forgotten Nixon-era classic and set in the autumn of 1971, James Wan’s latest sheds all traces of Cabin in the Woods snark: no cell phones, natch, but no sarcasm either, as based-on-real-life heroes Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), a married pair of self-described demonologists, deliver a college lecture about possession to a respectful class of longhairs. (Even they haven’t seen The Exorcist yet.)

A famous case in Amityville is still a while off for the Warrens when they’re approached by Carolyn (Lili Taylor), mother of five girls, who begs for some paranormal assistance: It seems her family’s rural home, recently occupied, is yielding far too many bumps in the night for the typical fixer-upper. You know the setup from Poltergeist, but this film’s commitment to drawn-out shivers feels almost radical: Children’s games of “hide and clap” yield unwelcome participants; a spooky jack-in-the-box found on a dusty shelf springs the unexplainable. Wan cut his teeth on the first Saw and 2010’s half-realized Insidious, but he’s clearly been hiding an inner Val Lewton, attuned to lingering pauses. And like the wood-grained farmhouse itself—a beautiful piece of production design by Julie Berghoff—The Conjuring has an analog solidity that makes the terror to come almost unbearable. Joshua Rothkopf

Tags: Film reviews