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Warner Bros. Pictures

Joey King as Christine in the supernatural thriller The Conjuring.

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★★★★✩

The Conjuring

Directed by James Wan

Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

Rated R

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An old haunted house in a semi-deserted suburban area, squeaky noises in the night, clocks stopping always at the same hour, a naïve and helpless family deciphering tortuous supernatural clues, possessions and exorcisms — you’ve seen it all before. Even if your knowledge of horror movies is limited to the few ones that turned your childhood nights into never-ending states of sleeplessness and convinced you to stick with comedies, you will be able to foresee the outcome of every scene in The Conjuring. Don’t be fooled though, because this movie will have you screaming in your seat, or at least jolting out of the unrelenting anticipation in case you grew inured to the images of unsightly demonic figures.

The story is quite simple. Carolyn and Roger Peron, along with their five young daughters, move into an old house that’s everything but safe-looking. Of course, as it is with every other typical horror plot, it turns out that the house was tainted by some horrific happenings in the past, which resulted in a demonic entity haunting the present. And that’s where the terror begins. The family’s dog does not want to enter the house, the daughters exhibit unusual behaviors during their sleep, and the mother wakes up with suspicious bruises. To make things worse, the family discovers a horrific basement, full of rustic artifacts, that opens “on its own” during the night. The family has no clue what’s going on, but you are already fidgeting because you know what’s coming.

It is exactly this mental readiness that will serve as your worst enemy — or friend, if you enjoy the thrill — throughout the movie because The Conjuring aims to scare you by giving you exactly what you ask for. When the camera spends ten seconds hovering over one of the daughter’s bodies while she is sleeping, you know something startling is going to happen. And it does. When the mother falls into the basement and the game ball jumps out of the corner and falls in front of her, you know that the demon will continue using its sickening sense of humor to torture her. And it does. At the same time, this predictability will build so much anticipation that, when the scary scene really does come to life, you will both scream out of fear and laugh at yourself for falling into the movie’s trap. The somewhat unpolished and unrefined acting, most notably seen in the lack of subtle transitions between tempered and exaggerated actors’ expressions, accompanied by stereotypical gestures, is successfully mitigated by James Wan’s directing skills. His mastery of building anticipation throughout specific scenes can also be seen in his strategy of unraveling the plot and creating restless atmosphere throughout the entire movie. When two demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, enter the story, the movie slowly transforms from a collection of startling scenes into a scarier and gloomier story, rife with images of possession, exorcism, and occasional gore. With hints of sporadic humorous dialogues and allusions to earlier cult horror movies, such as The Exorcist and The Birds, this movie brings together everything that defines an enjoyable horror movie experience.

Yet, for all the successful attempts of amalgamating the typical horror techniques, in the end, the movie still lacks the final nuance of freshness. Just when the story reaches its peak, and the ascending dither culminates with the silence in the theater as everyone bites their fingernails in front of the sight of the viciously possessed and satanic mother, the movie characters come to a ground-breaking conclusion that the only way to exorcize the demon is to surround him with the undefeatable emotion — love. All of a sudden, there are no more storms, the sun embraces the sky, the family is reunited, and you are left wondering if maybe — just for the sake of a startling and unexpected ending — you did not want to believe in the power love at that moment. Even so, The Conjuring will not leave you disappointed. You might sigh at the fortunate ending, but when you catch a glimpse of the shadows in the corner of your room the following night or perhaps wake up at the time when all the clocks stopped in the movie, the safe and warm idea of love just might be the only thing keeping you calm.