Okay, so The Conjuring is one of the scarier flicks I've seen, at least for the first two-thirds: for approximately half of the first two-thirds, I had to watch from behind my fingers, slouched down on the couch, trying not to startle the dog every time I jumped. Which was a lot.
Based on a "true" story, The Conjuring is set in Rhode Island in the early 1970s. The Perron family - Roger (Ron Livingston), Carolyn (Lily Taylor), their five (!!) daughters and their dog Sadie - move into a great, old farmhouse. Right from the get-go, things are weird: Sadie refuses to enter the house; and the parents find a boarded-over staircase to a forgotten basement, full of various junk. The poor dog is killed the first night, one of the daughters starts sleepwalking, Carolyn develops mysterious bruises and all the clocks stop at 3:07 a.m. every night. Roger is a truck driver, requiring him to leave his family alone a lot, and the nighttime disturbances intensify: pictures falling off walls, doors opening for no reason, sleeping daughters getting their feet touched by unseen assailants.
Finally, scared and worried, Carolyn tracks down Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), real life paranormal investigators whose claim to fame is Amityville. Ed and Lorraine investigate and determine that not only is the Perrons' new home haunted, it is probably inhabited by a demon - a former witch who sacrificed her own baby to the devil. The investigation continues and the disturbances escalate further, dragging the Warrens into the fray on a personal level. The culmination is an exorcism, performed by Ed because the Catholic church won't authorize an official exorcism for a non-Catholic family, and there is mostly a happy ending.
The first two-thirds of The Conjuring is fantastic: suspenseful, creepy, scary and tense. The camera follows the Perrons into their home as they move in, so the audience gets to explore the house as the new residents do. Then, the camera focuses on what is not there - dark shadows, spaces under the beds - which is particularly effective when one of the daughters is shrieking and screaming that something is RIGHT THERE BEHIND THE DOOR and we are watching right there behind the door, and there is nothing there. There is a rhythm to the jump scares - tension building, false scare, actual scare - but that doesn't make them any less effective, and one of the best sequences is when Carolyn searches the dark house by herself, opening doors and going into the basement alone. Dear god I was squirming. But for the last bit of the movie, when the Warrens really get involved and the scary bits get explained, things fall flat. The demons come out into the light and the tension drains away - and the exorcism itself is perfunctory and unimpressive.
So, here it is in a nutshell: The Conjuring is fantastically scary for the most part and then, when you can't stand it anymore, it steps back and lets you down easy. Still, it's a solid example of a haunted house flick and worth your time for the most part.
8 hours ago