Ed and Lorraine Warren are real-life legends in the white-knuckle world of paranormal sleuthing. The husband-and-wife team (he was a demonologist, she’s clairvoyant) investigated 4,000 cases, including such film-friendly hauntings as the one in Amityville, N.Y. Still, nothing in their creepy careers scared the stuffing out of them quite like what they encountered in 1971 at an old farmhouse in Rhode Island.
Now director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) has pulled that incident from the case files, dusted off the cobwebs, and goosed it with a genuine sense of bump-in-the-night dread in The Conjuring. After moving into their new home, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters are terrorized by fetid stenches, unexplained bruises, and visions of dead people. They desperately summon the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) to cleanse the house. They’re told the process won’t be pretty. And it isn’t.
Wan masterfully tightens the vise on the audience’s nerves, using mood and sound effects for shocks that never feel cheap (the harmless kids’ game of hide-and-clap has never been so bloodcurdling). Sure, the final half hour will feel a tad familiar to fans of Poltergeist and The Exorcist. But by then your armrest — and your date’s clammy palm — will already be shredded to ribbons. A-