Movie review: “Conjuring” summons old-school scares

By Columbus Alive
From the July 18, 2013 edition

Sometimes it seems like the people who make scary movies are making the same scary movies over and over again. No genre relies on the tried and true quite so much.

Despite a refreshingly patient setup — a throwback to when scary movies would build tension and scare the crap out of you late — “The Conjuring” doesn’t tread new (presumably haunted) ground. But it’s solidly effective at bringing the scares, which is all it really sets out to do, right?

It’s based on a “true” story from the files of real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). (Don’t let my skeptical passive-aggressive quote marks make this seem less scary.)

When a couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move to a big house in a small town, weird things start happening. The case is said to be a precursor to the one that inspired “The Amityville Horror,” so you get the idea. When they call in the Warrens to investigate, things get weirder still.

Director James Wan has a solid pedigree among fans of the last decade’s incarnation of horror flicks, having directed the first “Saw” and “Insidious.” “Conjuring” marks his most mature film, and he’s got his scare tactics firing on all cylinders.

It helps to have an above-average cast for this sort of fare, particularly Farmiga (an Oscar nominee for “Up in the Air”). These actors really sell the scares, which is good because Wan opts for an awful lot of scenes that involve people blindly wandering into dark basements and/or slowly opening doors.

That’s not a knock on the film. Wan opts for more old-school thrills than the bag of gross-out tricks. He’d rather make you gasp than wince.

If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Horror fans, enjoy.