THE CONJURING (NC16)
Duration: 112 minutes
The story: Set in 1971, this story is one of many in the files of real-life paranormal researchers Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren. The Perron family, comprising father Roger (Ron Livingston), mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters, move into an old farmhouse. Disturbing events happen almost immediately, which are dismissed by the family as natural phenomena until things get out of hand. Carolyn then seeks Ed and Lorraine's help.
Every few years, a low-budget horror work will become viral. This year, it is Malaysia-born, Australia-raised director James Wan's turn with this effective, if flawed, haunted-house chiller.
It did so well with test audiences that Warner Bros changed its mind about releasing it in the dead zone of January to March, so making this that rare thing - a horror flick in the middle of the summer superhero season.
The strategy paid off: The Conjuring opened late last month at No. 1 in the United States with US$41.9 million (S$53.1 million).
Wan is no stranger to small genre pictures that break out, having directed and co-written the first gory puzzle movie Saw (2004) and 2010's supernatural spookfest Insidious.
Much of this work's power comes from the likeability of its female characters, the first being the frail clairvoyant
Lorraine, played with understated grace and sensitivity by Farmiga. It is through Lorraine's eyes that much of the film is seen, so the burden on her trembling shoulders is mighty.
It might sound snobbish to say that Farmiga, nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the drama Up In The Air (2009), is too good for this material, but her line delivery can make a takeout pizza menu sound like gourmet dining.
And indeed there is plenty of low-quality filler here during the exposition sequences, which detail who did what sickening act to whom in what year therefore causing that to happen.
The second female powerhouse here is the underrated actress Lili Taylor as the mother, Carolyn. It is her pain that the audience feels, and she delivers that pain through her nimble, expressive face.
Wan takes his time to crank up the scares, but once he does, he does not let go. There is no hint that he is slumming in the horror genre - his love of scary movies is apparent.
Some moments are genuinely creepy, all achieved mostly the oldfashioned way, with camera angles and shadows and soft sounds, rather than with sudden loud bangs.
That masterfully confident pacing is sadly squandered at the climax, when a supernatural freakout scene of outlandish proportions breaks out. It is a payoff segment that feels far too cynical for the rest of the movie.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.