Following the back-to-back box office failures of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and “Jack the Giant Killer,” New Line Cinema is looking to rebound with a film that at first blush would seem to offer an unlikely shot at redemption — a midsummer horror title.
Yet buzz for its July 19 release “The Conjuring” appears to be promising — which is why New Line parent Warner Bros. wasn’t afraid to let its $19 million frightener swim with the costly summer blockbusters.
The studio had originally dated director James Wan’s demonic possession thriller for Jan. 25, but decided last fall to move it back to summer as a result of off-the-charts test screening results it received from audiences who rated the film either “excellent” or “very good.”
Set in Rhode Island in 1971, the story is based on the work of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, and their work in a house occupied by a family named the Perrons.
Reviews so far have been strong (87% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) for this latest entry in the exorcism subgenre. Though no such pic has approached the $400 million-plus global gross of 1973’s “The Exorcist,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (2005) scared up $140 million.
For New Line, “The Conjuring” marks a return to the company’s roots.
“Horror is very much a part of the DNA of New Line — ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’ ‘Friday the 13th,’ ‘The Rite,’ and the ‘Final Destination’ films,” notes New Line president Toby Emmerich. Emmerich, who tends to eschew overstatement, says, “This is as good a horror movie as we’ve ever made. … We think it will have great playability.”
That assessment, of course, has opened the door to the question of building a franchise based on the Warrens’ extensive investigations, which also involved the principals in “The Amityville Horror” and “The Haunting in Connecticut.” “We have Lorraine’s permission and support, and we are working on developing another film,” Emmerich acknowledges.
Warner Bros. debuted the film — which Wan (“Insidious,” “Saw”) shot in February 2012 in North Carolina — on June 22 at the Los Angeles Film Festival; that generated the first wave of strong reviews.
During a Q&A session, Wan admitted he was aware of similar demonic possession films of the era, particularly “The Exorcist” and “The Amityville Horror,” and wanted to avoid going over the top. “I didn’t want to make an action film,” he noted. “I was trying to exercise restraint — I wanted to stay true to the Warrens and the Perron family, and show this
through their point of view.”