published Thursday, July 18th, 2013

'The Conjuring' is more than your average fright fest

In this publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Lili Taylor portrays Carolyn Perron, left, and Joey King portrays Christine in a scene from "The Conjuring."
In this publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Lili Taylor portrays Carolyn Perron, left, and Joey King portrays Christine in a scene from "The Conjuring."
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

As sympathetic, methodical ghostbusters Lorraine and Ed Warren, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson make this old-fashioned haunted-house horror film something more than your average fright fest.

In 1971, they come to the Perrons' swampy, musty Rhode Island farmhouse — newly purchased from the bank — to investigate the demonic spirit that has begun terrorizing the couple (Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor) and their five daughters.

Lorraine is clairvoyant, and Ed is a Vatican-sanctioned demonologist. They're best known as the married, devoutly Catholic paranormal pros whose work with the Lutz family served as the basis for "Amityville Horror." The film is built in the '70s-style mold of "Amityville" and, if one is kind, "The Exorcist."

Does it live up to it? More than most horror films, certainly.

But as effectively crafted as it is, it's lacking the raw, haunting power of the models it falls shy of. "The Exorcist" is a high standard, though: "The Conjuring" is an unusually sturdy piece of haunted-house genre filmmaking.

The director is James Wan, who's best known as one of the founding practitioners of that odious type of horror film called "torture porn" ("Saw").

Here he goes classical.

Though it comes across as a self-conscious stab at more traditional, floorboard-creaking horror, Wan has succeeded in patiently building suspense (of which there is plenty) not out of bloodiness, but those old standbys of slamming doors and flashes in the mirror.

Rating: R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror

Running time: 112 minutes

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