Rhode Island, 1971. The Perron family (Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston and five young daughters) are undergoing terrifying supernatural phenomena in their new fixer-upper. Moving is not an option. Storied paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are apprised of the case, and even though they're weary of pointing out the decidedly non-mundane causes of most of the incidents they're called to check out, this one cuts the mustard. This is a true story. At least, I'm willing to go along with it. I've never had the "pleasure" of genuine supernatural horror myself, nor would I care to, but I'm open to suggestion.
It may sound like I'm about to attack THE CONJURING when I point out that there isn't a single situation here that you haven't seen before in countless paranormal/demonology/exorcism movies (and yes, this is the THIRD film this year ALONE in which birds dive suicidally into a building). But that's not the case at all. Director James Wan and his cast play the scenario to the hilt as if they were the very first ones to do it, and that turns out to be the absolute best way to approach it. NO camcorder/found-footage nonsense (save for the visual aids the Warrens provide to their lecture audiences). NO Catholic guilt or religious irony (we have enough of that in real life, no?): faith in the blessings of God is quite simply a GOOD thing (much as it always has been in the horror movies of Mexico); and the revelation that the family under siege is non-Catholic and the children haven't been baptized does NOT lead to a "Have you found Jesus?" lecture--"good" is there to help, regardless.
Never a winking suggestion that the filmmakers are above the material or are simply doing this out of "tribute"--I waited in vain for one of Wan's signature Euro-horror moments to appear, for example. The archives of the real-life Warrens, however, DO allow Wan to indulge in another effective round of "creepy doll" material (the Perrons are spared this particular horror, but it still has a legitimate role to play--Wan never lets himself get unduly distracted this time out). And the performances are fine across the board, but special honors go to the ladies: Taylor FINALLY gets to appear in a GOOD haunted house movie; and after JOSHUA and ORPHAN, Vera Farmiga should be anyone's A-list choice to play a concerned, frightened mother (she and her own young daughter are in just as much danger as the family she's trying to help).
The result? Characters you care about and scares that WORK, no matter how many times you've seen this story mounted. And that's all you need to know.
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