It’s 1971 and you’ve recently bought a house for you and your family. However, it should be mentioned; there’s a grotesque stench, the clocks always stop at 3:07 every morning and most nights you feel someone touching your leg, leaving bruises. Do you A) Redecorate and fix the plumbing B) Move out or C) Call a clairvoyant couple? Find out in my review of The Conjuring after the jump.
Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) are a couple whose hobbies include praying, snuggling and assisting exorcisms. The characters are based on a real couple who visited haunted locations and troubled people, and gave lectures on their findings. The Conjuring is the story of the one case they were assigned that defied logic and proved to be their greatest challenge. Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) have recently purchased and moved in to a large family home with their four daughters. However, after a few weeks they can no longer deny that supernatural forces also occupy their home, and their lives could be in jeopardy. Carolyn calls upon the Warrens to investigate and find out exactly they’re up against. What follows is a nightmare-ish descent into a demonic possession that could destroy two families and corrupt the faith of those left alive.
James Wan (Saw, Insidious) is a very good director. Originally from Australia, he is as much a fan of horror films as he is the mechanics in the theatrics of each moment that goes into establishing them as a product of their genre. He adores the clichés but acknowledges each and every one of them before reveling. He knows horror, he knows what works and what doesn’t; So, why does The Conjuring generally not work? And why isn’t it particularly scary?
The best horror film I’ve seen this year was Sinister, purely because surrounding the terror was a story and characters, who were intelligent and grounded. The terror in question arose from malicious acts witnessed by the protagonist. The Conjuring raises no questions and in no way works around an even remotely intrinsic plot or characters that go beyond jumping and screaming. These characters are figures that are designed merely so something can attack them. The Warrens are an interesting couple for a small amount of time, but once the terror heightens, their dimensions are lost amidst loud noises and objects moving by themselves. So then only one question arises, “Who cares?”
Wan and the cast (Especially Taylor and Wilson) all do what they can to elevate the thin material, they work towards making the film a very creepy and atmospheric one, but the screenplay lets them down. Proof of this besides the merely reactionary characters, is the reveal of the entity. It’s far too elaborate, and if it weren’t for the foreboding score or the sharp close up, you might wonder why the family have an untidy transvestite for a housemate. Clichés are aplenty, but even Wan can’t elevate or admire them all, and neither can the audience.
Another poor trait of the haunted house/demon possession subcategory in the horror genre is the one kind female character ALWAYS being the one that’s possessed. I bring this up because it’s a female character we see being beaten and thrown around the home, and not just by the demon. Why always a woman? Is it meant to make it more unpleasant and thus scary? Is the humble female character an embodiment for vulnerability? It’s a horrible thing to witness and at times The Conjuring revels in these moments. It’s not entertaining nor scary, but instead just mean and revolting. So why do we have to witness it?
There are moments of tension, there are moments of real effort and precision but in between are loud stretches of noise, loud noise that yell in our ear “Ok, now be scared, go on” to which us, as veterans of a good horror film will say, “No, tell your story then we’ll talk – oh and don’t tell me what to do”.
By Chris Elena
Director: James Wan
Writer(s): Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston
Runtime: 112 minutes
Release Date (s): Australia: July 18, 2013; USA: July 19, 2013