Crafting a good horror movie which stands the test of time is a real challenge. Doing it requires a delicate balance of realism, frightening plot elements, and a director who knows how to push the audience's buttons.
If the story is too over the top, there's a good chance the moviegoing public won't take it seriously. If it's too realistic or if it doesn't deliver at least a few jump-out-of-your-seat moments, it may well fall short of the goal of being scary, regardless of how compelling the story is.
The Conjuring takes some familiar plot elements and molds them into a reasonably good horror story. The movie explores little new territory and some of the content flirts with crossing the over-the-top line. But all in all, it's compelling, it's well told, and the audience endures some well-executed manipulation.
By the way, this story is reportedly "based on true events" - you know, the kind of true events that used to happen before video-equipped cellphones and youtube were invented...
It's 1971. Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively) are that rare couple that's making a living as a husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators. She's a clairvoyant and he's the only non-ordained demonologist recognized by the Catholic Church (sounds like good work if you can get it). Together, they've investigated an impressively large number of alleged paranormal activites.
Separately, the Perron family is moving into an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Initially, all is well with Roger, Carolyn and their five daughters. But, before long, increasingly strange and frightening things begin to happen.
Eventually, a rather desperate Carolyn seeks the assistance of Ed and Lorraine who, in turn, agree to help. In short order, the husband-and-wife team become convinced of the legitimacy of the Perron family's ordeal. An all out effort to understand and remedy the situation ensues.
At one point, Ed explains to Carolyn and Roger that leaving the house will not solve their problem. Apparently, the demon in question has attached itself to the family and if they were to leave, it would simply go with them (good thing too, otherwise the movie would have ended rather uneventfully).
With these pieces in place, the stage is set for the remainder of the action to play out, for better or for worse. The various moments of suspense and the related elements of drama are, overall, well orchestrated. However, a few pieces of the backstory feel a bit unsatisfying. Relatedly, as is the case with many a horror film, if you think too much about certain aspects of the tale you'll likely be unhappy with where you end up. So, don't do that...
There are a couple instances of comic relief along the way, but only a couple. Honestly, the skill with which the comedic moments were handled made me wish there had been a few more. But clearly, the movie aims to be a horror movie - nothing more, nothing less.
Those familiar with the reallife Ed and Lorraine Warren will know that they are perhaps most famous for their involvement in another case: the Amityville Horror. The actual events (controversies aside) which form the basis for that story happened in 1975. The first (of many) movies followed in 1979. On the other hand, the Perron-family case took place in 1971 and made it to the big screen in 2013. The cynic in me cannot help but conclude that the former is more interesting (or at least more commercial) than the latter...
Having said that, The Conjuring is a good - but not a great - horror flick. It's probably not going to do especially well in terms of standing the test of time, e.g. I doubt we'll look back in 20 years and consider this film a classic. But, if you're into horror movies, there's a good chance you'll like The Conjuring.