Creepin' Me Out

The year is 1971. A family of seven moves into a bucolic Rhode Island farmhouse, captivated by the pervading quiet, and pausing to marvel at the stretching fields and small dock extending out into a lake.

The two-story, wood-frame house, once white, is now a dull gray, its paint peeling, its exterior in need of repair. Inside, the bare walls are cracked, the floors creak in protest, and the kitchen is antiquated. In other words, for a struggling family that needs space, well, it's just about perfect.

But soon things begin to go eerily, jeepers-creepers wrong. Doors swing open, ever so slowly. An entrance to an enormous basement is discovered behind a faux wall in a closet. The girls wake at night insisting something is pulling their legs. One of the daughters sleepwalks and finds herself banging her head against an old armoire that was left behind. The clocks stop throughout the house at 3:13 a.m. Mom's arms are spontaneously bruised. The youngest daughter has an imaginary friend with whom she chats.

This is the essence of the just-released film, "The Conjuring." With all these things happening, pictures falling off the walls, nighttime banging, it all seems a bit goofy. But this is not a comedy. No one is laughing. And the filmmakers know that what is occurring will not be perceived as silly, but as malevolent and scary, for Hollywood has long been aware of one immutable fact: some 75 percent of Americans believe in the paranormal (when can you get such agreement on anything?).

Folks, it seems, are convinced that there is something beyond the evidence, and, to quote The Bard, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

And so a decrepit old country house, benign in every respect, in need of a good coat of paint and some repair, is transformed from the inanimate to the animate. The house, you see, has a history that is grim and eventually horrifying, and haunted doesn't really capture the feel of a place that appears at first blush inviting, but turns out to have a host of inhabitants who are not simply mischievous but downright evil.

So, regarding "The Conjuring," it follows a familiar template. A mix of "Amityville Horror," "Poltergeist" and "The Exorcist." Nevertheless, fans of the genre will not be disappointed, for they are sublimely ready to embrace the idea that bad houses do bad things to good people. Hence a door opening by itself is never simply a door in need of adjustment. And the noise in the attic is never the wooden house adjusting to the cooling night air. Or the family dog refusing to enter, ever, is not a sign but a quirk.

Of course, the parents (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) call in the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), experienced demonologists, to sort out all the unexplained phenomena. And that's when things really get over-the-top creepy.

"Girl Most Likely"

You'd think "Girl Most Likely," with Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live and "Bridesmaids" would have been a natural hit. It's not. Mildly amusing, at times quirky and preposterous, it is also absent the anticipated laugh-out-loud moments associated with Wiig.

Briefly, a 30-something Imogene (Wiig), once an accomplished playwright, now living in New York with her wealthy Dutch boyfriend, has a meltdown when he announces that she should move out of his 5th Avenue apartment.

Imogene fakes a suicide, is taken to a psych ward where she's eventually signed out in the care of her estranged mother, Zelda (Annette Benning), who lives at the Jersey Shore (none of Imogene's snooty, upper crust NYC friends will help).

It's been years since Imogene has been home. Arriving under protest, she discovers that her mother is living with George (Matt Dillon), a self-designated spy, and Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), her sweet, odd brother, who is fixated on sea snails, especially their carapace.

Not unlike "Silver Lining Playbook," Imogene finds herself living with a screwball family while trying to redefine her life.

Two clichés: young person returns home and tries to adjust after years away; and the locals living at the Shore are more grounded and real than the folks living in Manhattan who are chasing money, status and the approbation of shallow people who really don't care. The final reveal: Imogene discovers this truth and finds not only herself but also her talent as a playwright.

— Chris Honoré

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