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The Conjuring (15)

The Conjuring with Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren and Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Brothers.
The Conjuring with Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren and Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Brothers.

Based on a true story, The Conjuring is an unsettling supernatural horror in which ill-fated characters behave with a disregard for common sense that would astound, were it not par for the cinematic course.

Thus, a doting mother-of-five hears noises in the dark, foreboding basement of her newly purchased home. She checks on her children and finds them sound asleep. Rather than waiting for her husband's imminent return from his night shift, she descends alone into the bowels of the property.

Every fibre in our bodies tells us this is a bad idea - composer Joseph Bishara's discordant score echoes that discomfort - but down she goes, into the inky black.

The Conjuring would be starved of menace and jolts if the protagonists didn't put themselves in harm's way - and to be fair to the mother, events here took place in 1971 Rhode Island, six years before the publication of The Amityville Horror.

James Wan's film opens in sunshine with the arrival of Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and wife Carolyn (Lili Taylor) at a rundown farmhouse in Harrisville with their five daughters.

Eldest child Andrea (Shanley Caswell) sulks about relocating to the middle of nowhere while sisters Christine (Joey King), Nancy (Haley McFarland), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy) and April (Kyla Deaver) excitedly run from musty room to musty room.

The family dog Sadie refuses to enter the property and that first night, the clocks all stop at precisely 3.07am. In the coming days, the Perrons experience increasingly violent episodes, which terrify Carolyn and her brood.

In desperation, the family turns to renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), who immediately sense a malevolent force. For the Vatican to authorise an exorcism though, Ed and Lorraine must gather incontrovertible evidence of this powerful demonic entity. So they enlist the services of their trusty assistant, Drew (Shannon Kook), and a local police officer (John Brotherton) to protect the family as they research the dark history of the farmhouse.

The Conjuring steadily cranks up tension with doors that open of their own accord and whispering voices on the wind before revealing the evil that manifests in every creaking floorboard.

A subplot involving the Warrens' daughter (Sterling Jerins) and a possessed doll seems too fantastical to be true, recalling the hideous puppet in Wan's debut feature, Saw.

Simplicity works best, and a game of hide and seek around the house delivers one of the film's truly creepy moments. Wilson and Farmiga are solid and the younger actors brilliantly convey the terror that grips the household.

If you don't learn the painful lesson of one Perron girl and you forget to check under your bed before going to sleep tonight, you only have yourself to blame.

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