‘The Conjuring’ Review
August 17, 2013 18 Comments
The Conjuring (2013)
‘The Conjuring’ is the new film by the director James Wan, who also directed ‘Saw’ (2004) and ‘Insidious’ (2010). The film, which was initially entitled ‘The Warren Files’, is based on the real life events of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple who investigated paranormal activities back in 1970s and 80s. The investigators in the film are played by Patrick Wilson (‘Hard Candy’, ‘Insidious’) and Vera Farmiga (‘Up in the Air’, ‘The Departed’). The story takes place in the 1970s and details the haunting of the Perron family’s home in Rhode Island. The family, comprising a couple and their five daughters, moves into a farm house in Harrisville and soon begin to experience strange events in their house. When the family calls in the investigators to help them, they realise that their greatest fears soon to become their reality.
One thing which can be said for certain is that ‘The Conjuring’ is genuinely scary. Some scenes are bound to give one waves of goose bumps, and it is probably not one of those horror films which one would gladly see the second time. The acting is great, the camerawork is good and the story is truly gripping. As in ‘Insidious’, the first part of ‘The Conjuring’ could not be better – it is very scary, filled with mystery and truly immerses the viewer in the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Part of the reason why this may be the case is that James Wan modelled the film’s cinematography after vintage 1970s horror films. The second part of ‘The Conjuring’ is better than that in ‘Insidious’ in that James Wan seems to have taken into account some of the criticisms made to ‘Insidious’ and when the investigators do arrive in the house, the scene is far from being comic (although some of the investigators’ equipment may trigger an occasional sneer).
Another amazing thing about this film is that although, on the face of it, ‘The Conjuring’ does not go outside the boundaries of your typical horror film: there is ‘done-to-death’ theme of the haunted house and the haunted doll, James Wan and his crew does manage to present the story in so fresh a light, it becomes almost unforgettable. There will be a nice couple-or-so surprises along the way, and there are also stunning scenes of exorcism being performed, which could surely rival those in classic ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).
The biggest trouble with ‘The Conjuring’ is that clever James Wan et al does not seem to want to let go of any typical horror film’s salient features. So, the crew decided to throw into the film every imaginable horror detail, from a scary doll ala ‘Child’s Play’ (1988) and troubled ghost – psychopath mother ala ‘Mama’ (2013) to demonic beings, ordinary spirits, drowned maids, and even (would you believe it?) Hitchcock’s evil (possessed?) birds ala ‘Birds’ (1963). So, right at the end of the film, ‘The Conjuring’ has the ability to overwhelm the viewer, and the sheer multitude of ghost encounters (none of which are particularly believable) happening nearer to the closing credits does not help matters much. This is so despite the fact that in reality there were indeed many incidents of forced death reported in Perrons’ house, including two suicides, the rape and death of a young girl, a poisoning death and the death of four men, who were frozen to death.
So, at the very end, the scenes in the film resemble more the scenes depicting a ridiculous conglomeration of diverse spirits and other scary ‘things’ from ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012), if anything else. In that way, ‘The Conjuring’ tries to ‘play it safe’ and appear a ‘perfect’ film, being as interesting at the beginning as at the end and never boring, only at the expense of instilling confusion and producing a very unsatisfying ending.
The confusion is created by other means as well. At the beginning of the film, the audience starts to follow two completely different plot lines. At first, we see life events of the investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, their daughter and the incidents revolving around the mysterious doll, Annabel, shut out in the glass box. Then, obviously, we have the ghostly incidents on the farm with the Perrons being the main protagonists. It would not have been so bad, if we were to see some clear link between the ‘doll horror’ theme and ‘the haunted house’ theme, but we hardly saw any. The plot with the broken doll, Annabel and Ed and Lorraine Warren’s daughter was never elaborated and we left clueless as to the identity of the spirit possessing the doll. And, no matter how many sequels are to follow to clear this confusion, it does not detract from the fact that the film and the ending become very unsatisfying indeed.
Some other evident inconsistencies could also have been dispensed with. As in ‘Insidious’, the arrival of the investigators to the farmhouse in ‘The Conjuring’ marks the prolonged disappearance of all strange happenings in the house, and it seems, from then on, only religious artifacts could anger the spirits and set off another chain of ghostly encounters. There were also too many scenes with locked doors, i.e. doors which get mysteriously locked for a brief period of time when something happens in the room, and other people could not get in.
Overall, despite a very displeasing ending, confused story line and sporadic over-the-top scenes, ‘The Conjuring’ is still a very high quality horror film, which will make you glued to your seat. It is so scary, it becomes a must-see film. Just do not watch alone at night. 8/10
Warning! Spoilers Ahead!
Elaborating more on the ending, I could not believe it when I saw credits rolled in. Even if the hateful spirit was successfully exorcised and sent back to hell, what happened to all other spirits in the house? Surely, they must still be there – even after the most hateful one was send back. Does it mean that they found peace too, as their ‘mother’ was sent to hell? And they won’t make their appearance now? Or, they were so friendly to begin with, that their presence was not a discomfort? Well, neither of these two explanations seems plausible.
There are also a number of similarities between the Warren case and another, more famous one – the Amityville Horror case, the haunting of George and Kathy Lutz’s house by a demonic presence after a gruesome mass murder of the family of six was committed there, allegedly by one of the family members. For example, the Lutz stated that one of them always woke up at 3:15 every morning to check the boats – the alleged time of the killing (the clocks in ‘The Conjuring’ always stopped at some precise time too), and Lutz’ five year old daughter created an imaginary friend, just as it happened in the ‘Conjuring’.