The Conjuring      
Directed by James Wan      
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor      
112 minutes

Set in small town America in 1971, The Conjuring tells the terrifying true story of the Perron family who, after moving into their new home in Harrison, Rhode Island, discover a dark supernatural presence already residing there. After a series of disturbing and inexplicable events, the family in their desperation go to Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband and wife team of supernatural investigators who discover that due to their new home’s horrible history, an evil spirit has attached itself to the Perrons and their five daughters and paranormal activity abounds.

There’s an old saying you’ve probably heard which goes: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he doesn’t exist”. If you’re willing to concede there might be something to this, it’s not much of a stretch to acknowledge that it’s this tried-and-true trick that Hollywood has spent a good deal of time trying to contradict. Described by the Warrens as their “most malevolent” case, The Conjuring is another powerful testimony to the supernatural and presents a strong case for the existence of forces for evil as well as for good.

The difficulty with adapting real events or “true stories” to the screen is that quite often in an effort to make these stories jump off the page the movies become more about scaring, as opposed to sharing a genuinely scary story. Tricks of the trade which habitually haunt the genre, methods employed to achieve the desired effect, almost invariably detract from the truth of the tale, not to mention any genuine horror, all too often lost in the telling.

Needless to say cinema’s hallowed “artistic licence” – generally used without the requisite concern for the values which might give it any real legitimacy or worth — has had a lot to answer for since William Friedkin’s The Exorcist so eloquently presided over the unholy union of credible source material with pea green soup. It’s enough to make your head spin!

What The Conjuring masterfully avoids, like The Exorcist (in spite of its vulgar excesses) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose (with its weighing of supernatural phenomena against scientific method), is the temptation to solicit a reaction for the sake of it. Where inexplicable events are concerned, the facts themselves often have the power to possess our imagination immeasurably more than creepy music or levitating beds, taking on a life of their own and penetrating the subconscious with the primordial. Forcing us to engage our sixth sense and to acknowledge “the certainty of things unseen”, a good supernatural horror, if authentically frightening, must naturally negate the affectation of special effects.

That’s not to say the right combination of narrative background and character shading can’t be brought to life with a few well-timed strokes of vigorous melodrama and the odd violent splash of blood. The Conjuring has these in good supply but it works well because its dramatics, though effective, respect the power of the story and prefer to complement than compete. Scary movies are always scarier when based on, and informed by, true and carefully researched stories like that of the Perrons’, when an insidious idea or the knowledge of awful but real events can be enough to keep you awake in the dark when the lights come up.

Verdict: Secure in its source material and largely faithful to the disturbing real-life ghost story it tells, The Conjuring trusts us to intuit what paranormal investigator Ed Warren, after a turbulent career of supernatural sleuthing reliably affirmed: sometimes “the fairytale is true” and, special effects or not, things really do go bump in the night, so who ya gonna call?

Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity

Ronan Wright is a graduate in Film Studies from The Queen’s University of Belfast. As well as contributing to MercatorNet as a film critic since March 2011 he has run Filmplicity, a Belfast-based film...