Before Ed and Lorraine Warren encountered the Amityville house that has already been made famous in film, they helped Roger and Carolyn Perron and their five girls to be free of some very strong, evil spirits in a farmhouse they were living in. The paranormal activity involved voices in the night, moving furniture, strange bruises on the family, injury to pets, and even the possession of Carolyn. The latter event resulted in Ed performing an exorcism despite not being ordained by the Catholic Church. The story of this event is the main subject of the new film The Conjuring- opening Friday.
The film adaptation of the Warrens’ account of working with the Perrons, was done by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (White Out, House of Wax). They draw the audience in immediately with what could stand alone as an excellent and very scary five-minute short film about a possessed doll. Taken from a story of an encounter the Warrens had previously, it is used perfectly as a self-contained opening that instantly makes the audience jump even while knowing the scare is coming. It is a relief when the lights come up at the end of the sequence and we find that Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are giving a presentation on possession and the doll is now safely locked away in a room in there house.
From there, we are introduced to the Perron family and director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) begins to bring us along with a very well paced and slow burning first act. It contains a perfect blend of getting the audience invested in the characters by giving us brief, but real human moments (Roger and Carolyn Perron flirt with each other while joking about ‘christening the new house’), giving exposition on the characters in concise and creative ways (the Warrens give a slide presentation that serves to fill the audience in on the ‘rules’ of the paranormal), setting up gags that would be fulfilled later (a clapping game where one participant walks around the house with eyes shut in search of the claps of the other players), and especially of teasing the audience to build tension (bruises appearing overnight, creaky noises from the basement, sequences built as though they will end in a paranormal encounter but nothing happens, etc.). By the time Act Two begins, there was plenty of tension built within the audience. The first noticeable encounters were big enough to give us a release, but still small enough to allow for a build towards a much larger climax later in the film.
By this time, the Perrons realize they are dealing with more than they can handle on their own, so they reach out to the Warrens for help. According to Wan, the Warrens had a very blue-collar approach to what they did. “Ed was like a plumber, an exorcist plumber,” he joked. This approach is demonstrated in the professional way they talk about what they are doing, the devices they use to gather evidence, and even in their personal relationship. This personal relationship is also a faith journey, and Wan didn’t shy away from it in the telling; treating it in a very straightforward manner. “The Warrens are very faith based. I wanted to bring that into this movie, but I didn’t want it to be preachy. It’s very matter of fact, just a part of who they are.”
The film is touched often with a tenderness that invites a deeper concern for the characters but also serves to give heart to a genre that is usually void of heartfelt moments. The Perrons come across as a very loving and close-knit family. When things get tough, they hold close to each other, and the audience can’t help but feel a connection to them. Ron Livingston’s natural approachability is a perfect fit for Roger Perron, bringing the right amount of sensitivity and strength for a father of five girls. Lili Taylor plays his wife, Carolyn. She delivers in a role that requires a great deal of communication without dialog. As the story progresses, she quietly begins to carry a heavier and heavier burden that is never talked about but evident by the growing weight in her eyes.
But don’t let the soft underbelly of this film fool you, it is clearly a thrill ride. It contains the wonderful ‘What are you doing!?!’ moments that all horror films must have; those where the audience knows any sane person would call for back-up, but for some reason the character goes in alone. When those moments happen, they are believable enough that they actually enhanced the experience of seeing this film with an audience- and especially with friends. It allowed for the release via scared giggles or a verbal “don’t go in there” from the audience that made it a shared encounter rather than an unbelievable moment.
And when it gets scary, it really gets scary. The kind of scary that will haunt you long after the film has ended. Even though it does suffer from a few over the top moments aided by very dramatic music, it does its job of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. After it’s over, you’ll think every unusual noise is some kind of demonic presence. Trust me, you won’t want to be alone after seeing The Conjuring. It’s a fun shared-experience movie.