Twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes based their screenplay on the allegedly true story of the Perron family—Carolyn (Lili Taylor), Roger (Ron Livingston), and their five daughters—and their stately old Rhode Island farmhouse. The year is 1971. Soon after moving in, all manner of freakiness befalls the Perron family. Carolyn starts exhibiting mysterious bruises, birds regularly die outside the house after flying into it, and the expected bumps and thumps begin to ring out from dark corners. They call in help from paranormal investigators (introduced in the film’s prologue) Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, respectively). It’s Carolyn who catches their lecture at a local university.
Wan knows exactly how to stage this material to elicit maximum jumpage out of viewers. His careful staging is aided in no small part by composer Joseph Bishara’s score. Sound designer Joe Dzuban also contributes mightily, goosing viewers with sound effects both subtle and jolting. But maybe The Conjuring’s greatest asset is actress Lili Taylor. Much better known in the late-‘80s and throughout the ‘90s, Taylor has largely slipped from the mainstream eye in recent years. Her performance here should raise her stock considerably. In a genre often characterized by forgettable acting, Taylor is a force to be reckoned with as Carolyn, the increasingly mentally unstable mother struggling to protect her daughters from unseen evil.
But she’s not the only cast member on point during The Conjuring, as Farmiga and Wilson make the Warrens imminently likable rather than the clichéd “spooky” ghost hunters they could’ve been in lesser hands. Livingston is maybe just a tad too laid back for a man who realizes his house is haunted by demons that are attempting to kill his family. And due to the mere fact that there are five of them, not all the daughters register fully as characters (though Joey King stands out as Christine). It’s a perfect melding of utterly believable performances with expert technical filmmaking. It’ll be exponentially scarier if you truly believe in this sort of thing, but even the most resolutely skeptical viewers should have no problem surrendering to the eerily sustained atmosphere of creeping terror.
Kudos must be given to Warner Bros. for their top notch technical presentation. Most of The Conjuring unfolds in darkness, heck, even the brightest daylight scenes are dusky. The early ‘70s are evoked not just by the fashions, but also by the muted color palette (dominated by earth tones) of John R. Leonetti’s cinematography. It was shot with Arri Alexa digital cameras, but looks richly filmic. The aforementioned score and sound design are superbly presented in the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. If the visuals don’t get under your skin, the sound surely will—crank this sucker up and you just might end up thinking your own house is haunted.
Alas, the disc’s downfall is its disappointingly sparse selection of extras. I smell a special edition in the future. No deleted or extended scenes, no commentary, no cast and crew interviews—just three short featurettes. The best of which is easily “Face to Face with Terror.” Though it’s a scant seven minutes, this features the real members of the Perron family, who still seem shell-shocked by whatever they experienced over 40 years ago. I’m a skeptic, but their conviction makes you believe something weird was happening. “A Life in Demonology” (16 minutes) introduces us to the real Lorraine Warren (Ed passed in 2006) and other real-life ghostbusters; kinda silly, but interesting. “Scaring the '@$*%' Out of You” is an eight-minute EPK piece, which made me wish I could hear more from director Wan.
The Conjuring has hit Blu-ray just in time for All Hallows’ Eve and it’s destined to become a tradition for many Halloweens to come. Included in the combo pack are a standard DVD and UltraViolet digital copy.