In 1952, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. Back then, the couple also began devoting a wing of their home to a museum of occult artifacts they would collect over the course of their long career.
Lorraine was a celebrated clairvoyant and medium while her World War II veteran husband was the only non-ordained demonologist recognized by the Catholic Church. As a team, they would investigate thousands of reports of haunted houses over the years, most notably, The Amityville Horror.
The Conjuring, directed by James Wan (Saw), revisits one of the Warrens' lesser-known cases. Set in 1971, the film unfolds in Harrisville, R.I., where they were summoned to the secluded, lakefront home of Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lily Taylor).
The Perrons had recently moved into the old farmhouse with their five young daughters (Mackenzie Foy, Joey King, Hayley McFarland, Shanley Caswell and Kyla Deaver), initially ignoring several, telltale signs that the place had bad energy, such as their pet pooch's refusal to enter the premises. In addition, the smell of rotting meat would periodically permeate the air, and they would awaken every morning to discover that their clocks had stopped running at precisely 3:07 a.m.
Nevertheless, as optimistic new owners, the Perrons did their best to adjust to the disconcerting disturbances, only to have the supernatural spirit gradually up the ante. Before long, it was shaking paintings off the wall, toying with an antique music box, and knocking loudly three times in the middle of the night, an ostensible insult to the Holy Trinity.
Mr. Perron was particularly frustrated by these developments, given that as a truck driver he often had to be away from his family for as long as a week at a stretch. The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back arrived when the evil escalated from annoyances to the demonic possession of a loved one.
And when the Vatican dragged its feet about sending an exorcist to the scene, the Perrons enlisted the assistance of the Warrens out of sheer desperation. What ensues is a classic battle between God and the devil heavily laden with lots of Christian symbolism.
Provided you aren't offended by an obvious, faith-based agenda suggested by exchanges like "Are you baptized?" "No." "You might want to rethink that," this film otherwise proves to be a deceptively-frightening, old-fashioned screamer which does a masterful job of ever so slowly ratcheting up the terror. The most spine-tingling exorcist flick since, well, since The Exorcist!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for disturbing violence and scenes of terror
Running time: 112 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers