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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Nine-Tenths of the Law
by Donald Levit

The Conjuring calls up dozens of other demonic possession movies, most unholy spawn of Friedkin’s of forty years ago, though outnumbered by the related cabin-in-the-woods franchises. The public grows tireless for stuff in which “Horror is the soul of the plot.” No one has yet had the temerity to tackle Hawthorne’s psychologically cursed Maule-Pyncheon house and family, though the chilling Shirley Jackson mansion was resurrected only to be desecrated not long ago.

“Based on” the most inexplicable of the true cases cleared up by ghostbusters Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), twins Chad and Carey Hayes’s script moves the creepy old house and creaky old plot from The Haunting in Connecticut to seldom-used Rhode Island (but location filming in North Carolina). Going into hock, in 1971 the Perrons (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston, as Carolyn and Roger) are moving into their bargain-on-a-lake fronted by a hanging tree and inhabited by more than they bargained for. Triggered by a musical jack-in-the-box found by April (Kyla Deaver), the littlest of their five not-well-differentiated girls, paranormal phenomena kick in to bedevil them, in loud knocking sounds, moving and crashing furniture and frames, self-rheostating lights. Secret panels are revealed, scary cellars beckon, doors self-open on unoiled hinges, a dog dies and frenzied birds do, too, while bloody faces and figures in ye olde fashions materialize and disappear and humans are yanked about by the ankles or hair. As in his Saw and two Insidious takes, director James Wan is out for the unsubtle kill in this FrightFest selection.

Implored to come to the rescue are the Warrens, paranormal investigators and debunkers, semi-retired to the college lecture circuit after one particularly harrowing encounter took a larger than normal toll on the wife. These things run on faith, not reason, as for example the silly amateur exorcism that will have to be intoned when a priest is too far away and the silly scientific paraphernalia carted around is too beside the point. Indeed, it requires another leap of faith not to object to the opening sequence, a different, puzzlingly unrelated possession involving porcelain demon-doll Annabelle and a crayoned “Miss me?” Locked in a “Do Not Open” vitrine in a locked “Do Not Open” souvenir trophy room at the Warrens’, she gets invoked onscreen from time to time to liven things up, or deaden them.

It is dragged in late that Lorraine senses danger to her own daughter Judy (Sterling Jerins) and thus has had extra empathy for the Warren girls, both connected to the origin of evil in a mistreated girl over a century ago. But then, over five centuries ago, Chaucer’s Squire remarked, “Fy on possessioun.”

(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated “R” for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.)

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