"“A veritable work in the vast body of films that are transforming the genre into one of total farce...”"
The most impressive thing about The Conjuring is that, in less than two hours screen time, it manages to include almost every classic Horror cliché and trope thinkable. Much of this is made possible by the neat trick of vaguely centering on the Warren’s, a real-life family of supernatural investigators made famous for their later involvement in the Amityville case. In The Conjuring, the Warrens face their greatest challenge yet, in the true case of the Perron’s, a family tormented by a malevolent spirit playing havoc with the door hinges in their isolated country home.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d heard this one before. There is something timeless in this specific type of ghost story, still popular with sleepovers the world over, which seems to have outlasted the Frankenstein monsters of the bygone era. The Horror genre has always been subject to remake after remake, as stories are retold for new times, bringing terror to its ever-hungry audience.
Unfortunately, the expectation and acceptability of repetition in Horror is often used as an excuse for films like The Conjuring, that offer absolutely no intelligence in plot or character, and are essentially a compilation of shock moments from the history of Horror, intercut with hammy dialogue so lazily written it could be in another language and still carry the same narrative weight. James Wan’s latest offering is more of an abuse of than a tribute to the genre, resurrecting every murdered child and possessed doll with such gratuitousness that the affect is frequently comedic.
Indeed, any screams at the screening of this film were followed with roars of laughter, and whilst the screams were there, they were the result of the tedious formula of rapidly built tension followed by a loud noise, a bit like when your little brother jumps out at you from behind a door. Spooky stuff. Whilst there is certainly an element of thrill in jumping out of your skin, surviving The Conjuring, as the publicity dares us to do, is more of an endurance ride that, once you disembark, has no lingering presence. Few sleepless nights will be had over this one.
Performance wise it is hard to comment, as each actor is puppeteered by the icons of horror past on which their respective characters are based, although there were no real stinkers. Patrick Wilson is commanding as the protective mystic Ed Warren, in a role that has many parallels to that in James Wan’s last spook fest, Insidious. And it was satisfying to see Lili Taylor return to possession as the unfortunate Carolyn Perron since her last battle with a ghoul in 1999’s The Haunting.
The real stinker here was the near non-existent character development. For a film with such a well-known, simple plot, there are a surprising number of potentially big characters. Some, for example the bumbling sceptic cop (John Brotherton), receive no proper introduction and are subsequently given entire scenes, which we are supposed to care about. Others seem yet more gratuitous, for example the inclusion of The Catholic Priest (George T. Zervos), a staple character in most possession films, who is present in just one bizarrely placed scene that bares no further consequence or significance to the rest of the film.
A veritable work in the vast body of films that are transforming the genre into one of total farce, The Conjuring is a true nightmare for Horror fans. Essentially a high budget ghost train, it offers plenty of shocks but never any surprises.