Haunted houses are a staple of horror films, but this one comes with a little extra zing: It's based on real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), whose supernatural escapades previously inspired (the many versions of) The Amityville Horror.
In this story, which takes place in 1971, Roger and Carolyn (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move with their daughters into a craggy old house in Rhode Island where, sure enough, strange and inexplicable things start happening; they call on the Warrens to investigate. Diagnosis: witch-ghosts.
In its theatrical release this summer, The Conjuring was not only an instant hit — with its $41 million opening weekend, it unseated The Purge as the biggest-grossing weekend for an original R-rated horror movie — but it went on to earn more than $300 million worldwide, earning back its budget more than 15 times over. Look out, apocalyptic action movies and superhero stories: Turns out audiences don't need to understand English to be interested in seeing chairs fly across rooms!
Wesley Morris: "The movie's absurd enough to get an audience screaming. It's just that if you've got Taylor, Farmiga, Wilson, and Livingston in a movie, the script should have more for them to do than duck when antiques fly at them and stare down crazy dolls."
New and Notable
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reunite to play Céline and Jesse, the lovers they previously embodied in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset; Robert Linklater returns as their director and cowriter.
Nearly a decade after Jesse and Céline found each other again in Paris after their initial whirlwind of a one-night romance, each has been married and had children, and consequently have … you know, the kinds of problems and clashes that come with familiarity, as opposed to the excitement one might experience if one only spent life with one's soulmate for a few hours at a time. Now you can enjoy one of the year's most widely praised films at home, with the option to pause and ask your significant other the deep and meaningful questions playing out onscreen.
Wesley Morris: "I've seen this movie three times, and each time I'm struck at the suspense in the film's long, complete conversations, at how you're able to laugh at the truth of what these two are still trying to do after meeting 18 years ago on a train, having an affair, and marrying."
Girl Most Likely
Remember back in Knocked Up when Kristen Wiig played a functional, apparently fairly powerful, relatively successful professional? It's fine if you don't; it was a pretty small part and she was barely known then. Also, your memory of that character may have been crowded out by those she has played in films since, most of whom have not done so well.
A spiritual sister to Wiig's Bridesmaids character, a failed baker, Girl Most Likely finds Wiig playing Imogene, a failed playwright, who is forced to move back in with her mother (Annette Bening) in New Jersey and navigate a new life amid the new men who live there: her mother's boyfriend (Matt Dillon), and the boarder now occupying her old room (Darren Criss, in his feature film debut). The film, which received mixed-to-negative reviews, was codirected by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor).
Wesley Morris: "Michelle Morgan's script traffics in the arrested development that most American situation comedy does now and the vapid fantasy fulfillment of so-called chick lit (that title's pretty awful). But Berman and Pulcini — American Splendor, The Nanny Diaries — found a tone somewhere between tragedy and nonsense."
When a sketchy cop (Ryan Reynolds) gets killed in a shootout, his journey to heaven (I guess?) is interrupted: Instead of eternal happiness and rest, he's an afterlife cop, charged with keeping "Deados" (bad ghosts) from messing with living humans. Also, his new partner is a crusty cowboy played by Jeff Bridges.
Maybe this seemed like a good idea because it's based on a comic book and the kids love those? Unfortunately, reviews were pretty unanimous in rejecting it as charm-free, and it was one of this summer's biggest bombs. Rest in peace, movie.
Wesley Morris: "Every once in a while you see a bad movie and wonder how more of them aren't worse — a film so shitty on so many levels that you can't believe no one involved with the production could see that nothing was working. R.I.P.D. is that kind of bad. It's so bad, it puts other movies' badness in a new light."
"In Theaters"/Early Release Picks
After his titular role in the 2001 TV movie James Dean established him as a dramatic actor, James Franco — directing this time — turns his attention to one of Dean's few costars: Sal Mineo.
Available simultaneously with its theatrical release, Sal features Val Lauren (who previously appeared in Franco's Interior. Leather Bar.) as Mineo. Twenty years after Rebel Without a Cause, Mineo is having a hard time keeping it together, but his struggle is about to end: The film takes place on the last day of his life.
Rounding out this week's on demand horror offerings— this one also opening theatrically today — is Haunter, revolving around a spooky house that is … well, you'll never guess what. (It's haunted.)
Abigail Breslin plays Lisa, your typical bored teenager. But her life gains a purpose when she becomes the conduit through which girls who were murdered in the house over the years reach out to change her fate and save her from joining them.