By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Here’s a horror thriller that will scare the butterscotch off your krimpet.
The Conjuring is an eerie, well-crafted chiller based on a true story that, by controlling the mood and atmosphere to put the audience through the horror wringer with disturbing paranormal activity, vividly demonstrates the difference between gory and scary.
It’s just as decidedly not the former as it is most assuredly the latter.
Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor play Roger and Carolyn Perron, who, with their five daughters, move into a spacious farmhouse in Rhode Island in 1971.
Almost immediately, things start going bump in the night, foul odors are detected, kamikaze birds smash into the outside of the house, doors slam, and unaccountable bruises emerge.
Traumatized by whatever this dark presence is in their house, and after far too many sleepless nights, the Perrons call on Connecticut-based supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, husband-and-wife demonologists played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.
The real-life “ghostbusters” (who had ties to the case that formed the basis for The Amityville Horror) quickly decide that only an exorcism holds the possibility of getting the family through its waking nightmare.
Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, Death Sentence, Dead Silence) wisely avoids the over-the-top graphic approach and glues his audience to the screen by trusting his period-piece material and employing a masterful slow build, maintaining a nosebleed level of tension and dread throughout, letting our imaginations be part of the formula, sprinkling in just a bit of tension-release humor, and -– most importantly — sending quite a few shivers up our spines with what we don’t see rather than what we witness and turn away from.
Going the CGI special-effects route infrequently, Wan employs admirable discipline and restraint -– at least until the climax –- and certainly knows how to make seemingly ordinary things and occurrences unnerving.
The less-is-more screenplay by twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, working from the recently unsealed archives of the Warrens, allows us to get to know the ghost hunters as well as the family whose aid they come to: the Warrens are characters, not just obligatory plot contrivances, and the story is just as much theirs as it is that of the beleaguered Perrons.
Wan’s primary cast -– Wilson (who previously collaborated with Wan on Insidious), Farmiga, Livingston, and Taylor — is first-rate, and so are the kids in this genuinely terrifying suspenser.
So we’ll exorcise 3 stars out of 4 for the harrowing haunted-house heartstopper, The Conjuring. Whatever you do, don’t see it right before or after you move into a new house.