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The Conjuring' offers old-school frights

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Horror film filled with terror and tension

Hearing the words 'Based on a true story' connected to a film is always a mixed bag at best. You're always curious as to just how much is true and how much is trumped up to make for a better movie. It's probably worst with horror films not only did we have classics such the original 'Amityville Horror' and 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' with their supposed toeholds in reality, but you've got stuff like 'The Blair Witch Project' that goes out of its way in an attempt to convince us of the truth inherent to its (very) fictional premise.

That's where we start with 'The Conjuring,' the latest horror film to offer to tell us a 'true' story. Skepticism is natural in situations such as this one who's to say what is truth anyway? But in the end, as long as you get a good movie, it's easy to not sweat the small stuff.

And 'The Conjuring' is indeed a pretty good movie.

Ed (Patrick Wilson, 'Prometheus') and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga, 'Safe House') Warren were noted paranormal investigators active in the 1960s and '70s. While they have explored numerous hauntings and various other supernatural phenomena, they have only rarely encountered anything that proved to be more than they can handle. Until now.

The Perrons Roger (Ron Livingston, 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green') and Carolyn (Lili Taylor, 'The Courier') have just moved into an old farmhouse in a small Rhode Island town. Along with their five daughters, they're looking for a new start in a new place and by all accounts have found their dream home a dream that soon becomes a nightmare.

It starts slowly always chilly, doors opening on their own, a mysteriously boarded-up basement but the happenings start increasing in both frequency and in magnitude; before long, the Perrons are terrified to even live in their own home. And when they bring the Warrens in to investigate, everyone discovers that this house has a grisly past so grisly that it is even influencing the present.

There's nothing you haven't seen before in 'The Conjuring' its scares tend to be very much of the old-school variety. But even so, the filmmakers have managed to put these familiar pieces together and create something not new, necessarily, but unexpected. Director James Wan is unafraid to allow scenes to play out slowly, allowing for a tension that builds gradually. The scares are well-earned.

In terms of performance, the best thing I can say is that despite the fact that all four of these leads actors are familiar names and faces to me, I quickly and easily forgot who they were over the course of the film. There are few higher compliments that can be paid; none of them are movie stars, to be sure, but still it isn't easy moving past an audience's familiarity with an actor. This group does so quite skillfully.

The film has its flaws, of course. Perhaps foremost among them is the loss of imaginative tension when the effects team takes center stage. I recognize the desire to have some sort of reveal, but the film does such a good job creating atmospheric frights that you almost wish that they had allowed us to continue filling in the blanks in our own heads. Still, it's a minor complaint; there's no doubt that there are some legitimately spooky moments here.

How much of 'The Conjuring' is really based on a true story is certainly debatable. That kind of thing almost always is. But regardless of the veracity of its source material, the end result is a solid horror movie of the ilk that forgoes gimmicky premises and buckets of blood and focuses instead on more subtle scares.

4 out of 5

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