Originally screened in 2013, The Conjuring was directed by James Wan, whose previous films include the Saw series and Insidious. The story showcases Ed and Lorraine Warren, arguably two of the first American paranormal investigators whose famous cases included the events chronicled in Jay Anson’s book The Amityville Horror. Ed Warren was a World War II veteran and former police officer who became a self-taught, self-proclaimed demonologist. Ed passed away on August 23, 2006, at the age of 79. Ed’s wife Lorraine continues to be active as a clairvoyant and light-trance medium—her most recent appearances have been on the television series Paranormal State.
The Conjuring begins with Ed and Lorraine Warren helping a trio of teenagers tormented by an evil-looking doll that is possessed by a demon. The Warrens secure the doll in a special room in their house, where other “cursed objects” from their many travels are kept to ensure that “the genie remains in the bottle.”
The story then shift to the Warren’s latest case, which involves the Perron family. Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor, in a standout performance), as well as their five daughters, have moved into a huge old house. It isn’t long before strange things begin to happen around the house, such as the death of the family dog and the discovery of a massive cellar whose entrance has been boarded up.
The curse object in question is a child’s jack-in-a-box, which unleashes various ghosts, including that of a woman named Bathsheba, a witch who tried to sacrifice her children to the devil during the late 1800s. Bathsheba begins to torment the Perrons, and soon Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren are on the case. The Warrens conclude that the house requires an exorcism, but such requests take much time. As the paranormal events escalate toward the more lurid and violent, the Warrens are forced to take matters into their own hands, especially when they learn that Bathsheba has possessed Carolyn and now plans to sacrifice the children so that she can at last gain favor with Satan.
Although ostensibly a ghost story with a possession angle, The Conjuring is a surprisingly intense and satisfying horror yarn, thanks to a standout cast, a deft director, excellent screenwriting, and of course subtle but startling special effects. The entire cast turns in solid performances, taking the material seriously and thus making the horror sequences much more menacing and terrifying. Director Wan has a knack for evoking tension and showcasing sequences on opposite extremes of horror, where one minute things are quiet and peaceful and the next all hell breaks loose. Wan is also quite adept at squeezing out tension during the quieter moments, making it difficult for viewers to sit still even during dialogue-heavy sequences.
As with all films “based on true events,” The Conjuring has experienced its share of controversy. Ed and Lorraine Warren remain controversial figures, given that some of their cases have been labeled as hoaxes, including the events of the Amityville Horror and The Conjuring. For me, such controversy goes hand in hand with any paranormal investigation and comes down to belief. Moreover, such controversy does not diminish the power of the ghost story told in The Conjuring. Simple stated, The Conjuring tells one hell of a tale. Horror fans, even the jaded ones, will like this one.
As a coda, there is a possibility of a Conjuring 2, with the sequel telling the entire tale of the possessed doll presented in this film’s opening and hinted at later in the movie. If Wan remains at the helm, then the sequel will be worth watching, definitely.