"THE AMITYVILLE HORROR"—a debatably true story based on the demonic possession of a family's house on Long Island in the mid-'70s—inspired at least 10 books and as many films. James Wan's The Conjuring, a new film based on the "true story" of a similar occurrence, markets itself as the precursor to the more-famous tale: both cases were the subject of investigations by the controversial mom 'n' pop paranormal investigation team Ed and Lorraine Warren. And, just as the accounts of the two hauntings share copious similarities, every startle and creep of The Conjuring references a ghost tale you've seen or heard before.
That said, The Conjuring has plenty of frightening moments. It's 1971 when Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and his wife Carolyn (Lili Taylor) move into an old farmhouse with their five young daughters. Immediately, things are off: the dog won't enter the house (duh!); the clocks all stop at the same time in the middle of the night (seen that one before!); and they discover a boarded-up entrance to a previously unknown cellar (and yes, something bad happened down there). As the film progresses, clichés continue to abound. (Creepy doll? Check! Creepy music box? You got it!)
It's to the actors' credit—as well as the handsome cinematography and costume design—that the film manages to lift its head out of a strikingly familiar compendium of stories. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are downright loveable as the Warrens, and the actresses playing the terrified young Perron girls (especially Joey King) hold nothing back.
It's also somewhat impressive that despite its "R" rating, The Conjuring eschews excessive gore and violence in favor of old-fashioned scare tactics like doors that open and shut themselves, and things that go bump in the night, lending it, strangely, an almost wholesome, traditional air—if you'll excuse the satanic witch possessions in the basement and whatnot.