Despite his current status as one of horror’s current directorial darlings, especially with the announcement that he’s transitioning from horror to action with the next installment of The Fast and The Furious, I’ve had mixed feelings about most of James Wan’s films. At the time it was made, I thought Saw was a pretty terrifying concept, despite the poor writing and casting decisions that might have been made. I really enjoyed the first half of Insidious, but it really went off the rails and into a territory that I didn’t really enjoy, ultimately leaving me disappointed. Trailers for The Conjuring (Mr. Disgusting’s review0 had me intrigued, especially to see what Wan would come up with when he wasn’t collaborating with Leigh Whannel and that this was supposedly based on “true events”, and the result was a stylish haunted house film that didn’t really do anything new, but did those clichéd scares quite well and had some solid performances. Read on for the full review.
Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are two paranormal investigators in the early 1970’s. After moving into a new house in Rhode Island with their five daughters, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) start experiencing some terrifying events. Could you believe that most of these events coincide with Roger finding that his basement entrance was boarded up, question why it was boarded up, then remove said boards? WHAT DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN, OFFICE SPACE GUY?! Just like you saw in every trailer for this movie, the haunts include children clapping, things being under the bed, and the one-two punch of a mirror INSIDE of a music box. “Hey guys, the music box isn’t creepy enough on its own, is there any way we can make it more obviously creepy? YES, LET’S THROW A MIRROR IN THERE!” The Warren’s are contacted to investigate, and although they can normally explain all “haunts” with real world solutions, the history of this house lets them know that some things really are caused by the supernatural, and it’s up to the Warrens to take matters into their own hands to help the Perrons.
My issues with Wan’s previous films are generally that for every one thing I do like, there’s something I don’t like and it’s just a stalemate of mediocrity. The Conjuring is Wan’s most consistent film, so if you’re a fan of his work, you’re going to enjoy this movie. The biggest issue that I have with this film is that, as I already mentioned, every single scare was either given away in a trailer, and even if you managed to avoid the trailers, you’ve seen them in another movie. With Insidious, I didn’t really like the direction that the “haunts” went in, but at least that was an original direction that I know a lot of other people are fans of. With The Conjuring, I kept waiting for there to be a surprise around a corner, but virtually every scare is something that’s deliberately set up for the audience to sit and wait for the scare to come. Are we really to believe that the Perron children are playing a made up game that’s a poor man’s Marco Polo that involves blindfolding themselves and stumbling around a house as they follow clapping? No, of course not, you know right away that it’s a setup for Lili Taylor to overhear some spectral applause when she thinks she’s following her own child. However, the reason we’ve seen these scare tactics used so often is because of how successful they are, so if you can suspend your eye-rolling for those sequences, they are effective, startling, and fun. The ghosts themselves also have the visual appearance that we’ve seen countless times, with their pale skin and eyes that looked like Alice Cooper started crying because no one would feed his Frankenstein. Even though most fans were disappointed with Mama earlier this year, the spirits in The Conjuring made me wish for the originality of the disturbing appearance of the titular ghost in that film.
Whether it be the family in Poltergeist, the young children in The Ring or The Sixth Sense, or the awkward romantic tension between two post-college coworkers in The Innkeepers, the effectiveness of supernatural films relies on how much the audience can connect with the subjects being haunted, and I couldn’t really feel it in The Conjuring. That’s not to say that the cast didn’t all put in solid performances, especially by Lili Taylor, but the film split its focus between connecting you to the Warrens and connecting you with the Perrons, when I ended up not really connecting much with either. Yes, of course you felt sympathetic to the children being the subject of these haunts, but I didn’t feel as strong of a parental bond as I did in other haunting movies like The Sixth Sense, The Others, or The Orphanage. Supposing that the film’s main characters were supposed to be the Warrens, I felt like we didn’t get enough time with them to feel their connection or their dynamic, nor did we really explore how they got involved in this field in the first place and why it was so important to them. Not having a strong enough reason for why they were exploring the supernatural world, there’s one scene in particular where Patrick Wilson’s character comes across more like Michael J. Fox’s fake paranormal investigator in The Frighteners than he does someone trying to help a family. If the film had focused on either family a little more heavily, I think I could have excused the lack of backstory and motivations a little more easily, but I’m also not going to complain about getting to look at Vera Farmiga for two hours.
Even though the justification for all of the events was kind of vague and glossed over pretty quickly, I do like the way things came together at the end. (Minor spoilers ahead) The film depicts exorcisms a, and the way they depicted the last exorcism in the film was in a way I hadn’t really seen before. In a movie filled with so many things that seemed familiar, there were definitely a few twists in that exorcism sequence that were pretty neat. Also, there’s a definitive resolution in the film, so in this day and age where we see so many horror films being made in an attempt to create a franchise, we at least knew what was going to be happening with the Perrons. Maybe we’ll see the Warrens in another movie, but this case could at least be considered closed (End spoilers).
If you’re a fan of James Wan’s directing style and if you love a good ghost story, then I can definitely recommend you check out The Conjuring, even if there’s a few things you’ve seen done before. This movie at least does them quite well. However, if you were looking for someone to do something different with the “Based on a true story” movie about a haunted house, than you should probably just wait for a movie like A Haunting in Connecticut 3: GHOSTS IN OUTER SPACE 3D”.