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Rhode Island Dead

The Conjuring (2013)

Michael Tackett/Warner Brothers Pictures

To say that things go bump in the night in "The Conjuring" does an injustice to the volume of the film's audio mix, which has been calibrated to loosen your dental fillings. And to say that there isn't an unpredictable second in the film doesn't make it sound as much fun as it actually is, given the lengths that director James Wan goes to in keeping this particular haunted-house caper barreling forwards. Downplaying the Sam Raimi-flavor pastiche that tends to gum up this kind of exercise — at least until the end — it's a straightforward piece of mostly gore-lite atmospheric scaremongering, in which several fine actors make one another jump out of their skins while a punch-up breaks out in the orchestra.

Claiming with a straight face to be based on fact is usually a sign of nostalgia in a ghost story, and this one has Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life 1970s paranormal investigators with ties to the case that eventually formed the basis for "The Amityville Horror." Called in by a family battling demonic spirits in its Rhode Island home (among them Lili Taylor, still screaming 14 years after "The Haunting"), the Warrens tackle the unquiet dead and naturally get more than they bargained for.

These ghostbusters are rather more interesting than the clients, given the Warrens' differing religious views and their cellar full of artifacts from previous cases, a Batcave of psychic TNT waiting to go off. The actors make a fine pair too: Mr. Wilson has an understanding with his director after "Insidious," while Ms. Farmiga — having done some screaming of her own in the past — gets to face down these demons with real backbone.

Mr. Wan eventually indulges in some wire work and flying bodies, having perhaps run short of ideas; but for the most part he makes do with dark corners, menacing camera angles and the inevitable devil doll. Such restraint makes its point, even if it might not be much of a style and notwithstanding the blood coming from your ears. The director and his group of frequent collaborators are clearly well in sync, and "The Conjuring" has more affection for its characters and movie history than Mr. Wan usually goes in for. The Warrens even get a nice set-up for their next excellent adventure, heading off in the general direction of Long Island and the horror awaiting them there.


Opens on July 19 in the United States and on Aug. 2 in Britain.

Directed by James Wan; written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Kirk Morri; music by Joseph Bishara; production design by Julie Berghoff; costumes by Kristin M. Burke; produced by Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran and Rob Cowan; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Vera Farmiga (Lorraine Warren), Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren), Ron Livingston (Roger Perron) and Lili Taylor (Carolyn Perron).


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