Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Conjuring (2013)

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga. Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyle Deaver, Shannon Kook

Directed by: James Wan

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Annabelle the doll. Face it, she's scary.

You've heard of the Amityville Horror, right? But have you heard of the Perron haunting? Nope, me neither. But perhaps that's because, unlike the Lutz families, the Perrons didn't make a career out of being possessed.

Like The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring is based on the case files of self-styled demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). When the Perron family (mum, dad and five – yes, five! – daughters) move into a big ol' farmhouse in Rhode Island it quickly becomes apparent that all is not well. Clocks stop, doors bang, birds commit hari-kiri against the windows, the dog is found mysteriously dead. Daughter no.2 sleepwalks, no.3 is dragged from her bed by an unseen force, no.1 is attacked by a wizened old crone and no.5 has an invisible friend called Rory. (No. 4 has to wait until later for her ordeal.)

With five growing girls, the household is ripe for psychological/hormonal poltergeist disturbances. But when desperate mother Carolyn (a bravura turn from Lili Taylor) enlists the Warrens' help, they quickly discover the source of the evil: a deranged, Satan worshipping, child murdering, 19th century witch. Of course.

Did these events really take place? Did those in Amityville? Watch My Amityville Horror, the thoroughly disturbing documentary about survivor Daniel Lutz and you'll be none the wiser – but you'll get to see what a fruit loop Lorraine Warren has become.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring

Here, played by the ever-sympathetic Farmiga, she's somewhat less nutty: a sensitive psychic with a devotion to her demon-busting vocation that takes precedence over pretty much everything else, including her health, her mental well-being and her young daughter, she's also caring, courageous and professional, with a calm, resolute Christian faith that sustains her in dark hours.

Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) uses every trick in the book to scare the pants off us, and in a crowded cinema of non-hardcore horror fans, he succeeds extremely well. The framing device of Annabelle the Evil Doll (another of the Warrens' cases) is both cynical and brilliant: she has nothing at all to do with the plot, yet we await her malevolent appearance with hammering hearts – c'mon, who isn't scared of a creepy-ass possessed doll?

Besides Annabelle, the Perron's haunting seems a little by the book: there's certainly nothing we haven't seen before, albeit not often this beautifully presented. But while shades of the horror greats haunt The Conjuring as persistently as the witchy ghost, it's worth remembering that it's cases like the Perrons' that shaped much of modern horror. Tobe Hooper and William Friedkin had to get their ideas from somewhere…

Did I enjoy the film? Yes I did. I laughed, I jumped, I loved the '70s styling and I was totally freaked out by horrible Annabelle. Could I rid my mind of an image of a committee of over-enthusiastic writers shouting 'What's scary?' and writing the answers down on Post-it notes? No I couldn't. 'Evil dolls!' 'Yay!' 'Spooky ghost boys!' 'Yay!' 'Mirrors! Music boxes with clowns in! Nooses!' 'Yay!' 'Samurai armour!' 'Really?'

But who cares? The Conjuring is part of a new breed of mainstream genre movies that have come some way to saving multiplex horror: think Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Sinister and Mama, all of which feature respected actors, solid production values and even decent scripts, resulting in well-made, enjoyable, frightening films. Yay!

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