*1/2 (out of four)
Early in “The Conjuring,” text claims that of the thousands of cases handled by husband-and-wife paranormal researchers Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), one was so malevolent that it's been locked away until now. And it has now been declassified why? Because horror fans have gone a few months without the same old thing?
In fact, “The Conjuring” really does come from a true story, but director James Wan (“Insidious,” “Saw”) stages the story like a game of spot the cliche: There’s a creepy doll, and an unsettling old music box, and a little kid who becomes friends with a spirit and finds nothing strange about her new, very pale pal appearing only in mirrors. When unidentified hands emerge from a wardrobe, I wanted to ask, “Is a ghost trying to escape from Narnia?”
After far too much set-up, the plot eventually involves Ed and Lorraine investigating the new house of Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters who become rather difficult to monitor. Since Carolyn and Roger of course didn't ask questions about the new house they bought out of foreclosure and found nothing weird about busting into the boarded-up cellar, they've taken their time before wondering if the weird noises and awful smells and mysterious bruises might be a sign of demonic possession.
Ed thinks so very quickly after arriving, though I have to imagine sometimes a rancid smell is just a sewage problem, no?
Wan’s a talented stylist and knows how to create tension from the unseen. Some shots, like a little girl peering into the dark under the bed, are automatically spooky. But from “The Exorcist” to last year's underwhelming “Red Lights” and effectively disturbing “Sinister” and the recent, lousy “Mama,” highly comparable elements are being trotted out time and again and lazily called traditional genre pieces. If something wild and potentially unexplainable really happens, let's do a documentary about it and not make the horror movies that falsely claim to be real and the ones that actually are real virtually interchangeable.
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