‘The Conjuring’ Reviews: Were the Critics Scared Off by This Haunted House?

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The film centers on a pair of paranormal investigators who find themselves outmatched by an old farmhouse with a dark history

"The Conjuring" scared the bejeezus out of America's top critics.

The haunted house horror film earned rave reviews for its deft mixture of thrills and chills. The film centers on a pair of paranormal investigators who find themselves outmatched by an old farmhouse with a dark history.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson star as the married demonologists brought into investigate strange doings at the rickety house, and James Wan, who sharpened his skills on "Saw," directed. The film hits theaters on Friday, armed with a frighteningly good 84 percent "fresh" rating on the critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Count Alonso Duralde among the reviewers who had their spines good and thoroughly tingled. TheWrap reviewer raved that "The Conjuring" was one of the most frightening films in his recent memory.

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"As for me, I was screaming," Duralde wrote. "Out loud. Which I generally don't do in crowded theaters. For a movie like this, that counts as a standing ovation."

The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips was equally enthusiastic about Wan's handling of the creaky floorboards and things that go bump in the night. He reached back to another seminal haunted house film — "The Amityville Horror" — to declare that "The Conjuring" eclipsed that 1979 scare-fest.

"Wan shoots 'The Conjuring' like a Robert Altman film, slip-sliding around the interior or the exterior of the old dark house in a series of slow zooms and gratifyingly complex extended takes," Phillips wrote. "Might this movie actually be too good, in a slightly square way, to find the audience it deserves among under-20-somethings? Maybe. Maybe not. I hope not."

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The on-screen spooks also left Chris Nashawaty clutching his armrest. The Entertainment Weekly critic singled out Wan for the lion's share of the plaudits for his handling of pacing and atmosphere.

"Wan masterfully tightens the vise on the audience's nerves, using mood and sound effects for shocks that never feel cheap (the harmless kids' game of hide-and-clap has never been so bloodcurdling)," Nashawaty wrote.

Jake Coyle echoed the praise for Wan and his naturalistic approach to the supernatural elements of the story. The Associated Press critic also gave credit to the stars' performances for helping ground the spectral tale in the real world.

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"Most effecting are Wilson and the wonderful, sad-eyed Farmiga," Coyle wrote. "When the Perrons are in need, the Warrens come with their instruments and understanding, ready to help a family haunted by an unseen demon."

There are, of course, always dissenters. Leading the outliers in the case of "The Conjuring" was the New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier. In a blistering appraisal, he labeled the film a "wanna-be old fashioned creep show."

"The film’s minimal scares, often based on kids in peril, include a toy that reveals an undead boy and a monstrous ghoul mom … If 'The Conjuring' were less of a con job, horror fans would not feel equally as trapped," Neumaier wrote.

Eh, he probably hates Halloween, too.