The Conjuring is a simple story told in a straight-forward manner, and that’s what makes it so good. The film, which centers on a case investigated by real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), contains very little in the way of special effects or gore; rather, it relies on convincing portrayals of real people flummoxed by an unknown, and at times seemingly insurmountable, force to reel viewers in.
The case at hand involves members of the Perron family, who have recently moved into an old farm house in Rhode Island. Shortly after their arrival, the family discovers a boarded up staircase that leads to a cellar full of old furniture, trinkets and junk left behind by previous dwellers. Soon parents Roger and Carolyn Perron (played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters experience strange occurrences: doors opening and closing by themselves, odd noises throughout the house, clocks stopping at the same time every morning and terrible smells permeating specific rooms. The occurrences escalate, becoming more sinister (Carolyn wakes up with bruises on her body, one daughter is pulled from her bed by an invisible hand in the middle of the night) and making it clear that the Perrons are in danger.
Enter the Warrens. The husband-and-wife team is known for investigating hauntings (as well as pinpointing scientific explanations for seemingly supernatural occurrences). At Roger and Carolyn’s request, Ed and Lorraine agree to scope out their house to get a read on what could be causing the Perrons’ encounters. The investigators quickly conclude that a demonic force has latched on to the family and is determined to destroy them.
If this all sounds to you like typical haunted-house faire, it is. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) barely wades into unchartered territory in terms of The Conjuring’s plot. But what’s noteworthy about the film is the veracity with which the actors respond to the increasingly dangerous situation in which they are caught. Farmiga and Taylor, in particular, excel at driving the story forward with their believable performances. There’s an emotional resonance struck by the actresses playing the five Perron daughters that makes you truly fear for their safety (both physical and mental). Without such performances, The Conjuring would have been just another run-of-the-mill ghost story. Their dedication to their roles helps viewers feel they have a vested interest in both the Warrens’ and Perrons’ fight against the malevolent force.