The Conjuring (2013)    1 Stars


The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring (2013)


Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston

Synopsis: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.




James Wan’s The Conjuring is something of a throwback to the haunted house movies of the 1970s, the first of which was The Amityville Horror, a supposedly true story of possession which has since been debunked but which has apparently done little to discredit the Warrens, a couple of latter-day ghost hunters who were heavily involved in the alleged exorcism of demonic spirits in the Long Island house (there’s even a sly reference to Amityville at the end of The Conjuring when Lorraine Warren informs her husband they’ve been asked to investigate an incident in Long Island). The Warrens are portrayed in Wan’s movie as a pair of saints whose altruistic instincts are tempered only by the concerns of husband Ed (Patrick Wilson – Insidious, Young Adult) for the well-being of his wife (Vera Farmiga – The Departed, The Judge) who forms a kind of psychic bond with the manifestations they investigate. The Conjuring is unquestioning of the testimony of the Warrens and the family in whose large, rambling home it takes place, indicating perhaps its desire to deliver old-fashioned scares rather than an attempt to find out exactly what happened in that Rhode Island farmhouse in the early ‘70s.

The Perrons (Lili Taylor & Ron Livingston – Body Shots, 10 Years) purchased the house with no knowledge of its dark history, which perhaps explains why they were able to snap it up at such a knockdown price. Not long after moving in, though, they and their four daughters notice odd things about the place: birds fly into the side of house for no reason, the family dog won’t cross its threshold and is found dead the morning after they move in, the stench of rotten meat comes and goes, clocks keep stopping at 3:07am, and mysterious bruises appear on the mother’s body while she sleeps. As the severity of these incidents escalates, the Perrons contact renowned paranormal investigators the Warrens for help. The clairvoyant Lorraine Warren soon senses the presence of a malign spirit that means to harm the family, and warns them that leaving the house won’t help as the spirit has now ‘attached’ itself to the family. Cripes…

Films like The Conjuring have come along every week or two for the past couple of decades, but for some reason this one captured the public imagination in 2013, racking up worldwide sales of around $318 million; not bad for a movie that cost an estimated $20 million to make. The main reason for this unparalleled success seems to be that by adhering to the form and style of those old horror movies of the ’70s and ’80s, The Conjuring tapped into a formula which is oddly reassuring for the audience. Wan largely forsakes the modern propensity for shaky-cam confusion so beloved of directors trying to fool the audience into believing they’re seeing more action than they really are, and devotes time to creating a menacing atmosphere. And although the movie’s characters are strictly genre stereotypes, it at least tries to give them a little individuality. There’s nothing particularly graphic about the horror in The Conjuring – quite how it received an ‘R’ rating in the United States is something of a mystery – but its breathless momentum sweeps up the audience in the final act, amply rewarding their patience during the slow build.

On the down side, there’s a definite ‘seen it all before’ vibe about The Conjuring; it almost feels like a remake of The Amityville Horror at times. And its pandering treatment of the Warrens is so one-dimensional that they have all the depth of characters from some crowd-pleasing ’70s TV series like The Waltons. Given its slow build-up to the final act, The Conjuring is also surprisingly light on detail regarding the history of the house. It’s a solid enough watch though, and far superior to most of the horror movies flooding our screens these days.

(Reviewed 9th October 2015)

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