Oh, how I wanted to like The Conjuring. It’s got a traditional haunted house setting, ripe for ghostly creepiness. It’s got James Wan. Hell, it’s got Vera Farmiga, who’s had a number of enjoyable roles in horror films. It’s even got a pretty effective atmosphere going for much of it. But it has about zero originality.
The film opens with what I found to be the creepiest part of the whole thing: a video detailing the case of a freaky-looking doll who is terrorizing a couple of nurses at their apartment. The case, we learn, is a previous one of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two real life paranormal investigators who have made cameos in various books and movies, and who become the stars of The Conjuring.
From there, we meet a family of seven as they move into a rustic house in the country big enough to shelter all five of the couple’s daughters. As you might imagine, strange things begin happening: the clocks all stop at 3:07 am, they find a boarded-up spiderweb-covered cellar, and thumping noises wake them in the middle of the night. Yadda yadda. Nothing new here. At times creepy, but extremely par for the course in any haunted house offering doled out by Hollywood.
Once the haunting sufficiently terrifies the family, it’s time to call in the paranormal investigators. Enter Ed and Lorraine: interesting characters who are well portrayed, but ultimately detrimental to the mood initiated by the family’s victimization by an unnamed force. As soon as they arrive at the house and set up their equipment, some of the mystery and intrigue disappears. We feel safer, somehow, because the experts are here to save the day.
The unhappy clan is joined by a skeptical police officer who is there to oversee the proceedings. This character provides the obligatory “convert the skeptic” subplot that all demon possession movies must include. For they immediately determine that this supposed haunting is, in fact, a demon possession—not even close to a surprise, when the revelation comes.
Which leads us to the quandary: how many religion-based possession movies do we really need in our lives?
The problem with so many horror movies about possession is that they limit themselves to things that are only scary to people with particular religious beliefs. In an increasingly secular world, let’s face it: we just aren’t as scared as we used to be of demons and other religious horrors. The mantra of these movies inevitably becomes the idea that we can only fight evil via the power of God, which immediately alienates anyone who doesn’t share this belief. At this point, the mystery is gone, and with it, the fear: we know what it is, and we know how to stop it. Once you introduce God into the narrative, you’re operating on a Deus ex machina where logic need not apply, and the only way to solve your problem is with crosses and holy water.
I doubt I’m the only nonreligious person who feels left out of these kinds of movies, because not only do I feel no sense of fear from them, but I also find it hard to root for the good guys, who tell everyone that they will only be saved if they believe in God. They play with the viewer like they play with the token skeptic who must necessarily be converted by the end of the film. I’m not totally against religion in horror, but look, can’t we do something different for once? Aren’t there any other religions aside from Catholicism with the potential for creepy shit? Something aside from the traditional ideas of God and Satan?
Maybe I went into this one with my hopes too high.
I understand that this movie is “based on the true story” of one of Ed and Lorraine’s investigations—but that’s no excuse for its lack of creativity. This is a mundane film: all of its tropes have been done to death time and again. I think it’s time we exorcise from Hollywood its treasured notions of exorcism, because it’s getting old. Pretty much every exorcism movie after The Exorcist has been lame and extraneous. The Conjuring is, sadly, no exception.
Plot / Originality: 3 out of 10 mysterious music boxes
Acting: 7 out of 10 mysterious music boxes
Visuals: 7 out of 10 mysterious music boxes
Music: 6 out of 10 mysterious music boxes
Script: 5 out of 10 mysterious music boxes
Scare Factor: 6 out of 10 mysterious music boxes
Overall: 5.5 out of 10 mysterious music boxes