Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston
Genre: Horror/ Thriller
Paranormal investigators (as well as husband and wife) Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga) are very famous in their field, but a past case leaves them with scars and a reluctance to carry on their work. When asked by the Perron family to investigate some serious strange goings on in their new family home, they reluctantly agree. After discovering the history of the location and what has been happening to the members of the Perron family, it leads to dark, shocking and painfully clichéd revelations blah, blah, blah…
With a budget of around $20million and takings of over $300million, The Conjuring is one of the most profitable films of the year, further enhancing Wan’s reputation as a genre director that gets results, well profits. Though, just like another horror-ish film that was small on budget but big on box office, the absolutely terrible The Purge, The Conjuring for me has to go down as a huge disappointment. There is no doubting that Wan is a competent director and it is a credit to him that he does not rely on gore or nasty violence. In The Conjuring he is obviously trying to slowly build up a tense atmosphere with character development for the narrative’s 112 minutes. It is in admirable effort, but in my view he just lets himself and the impressive cast down.
There is no denying that at first The Conjuring does start to build a good atmosphere, aided by John R. Leonetti’s excellent cinematography; it is all intriguing and a little unnerving. The cast too are excellent. The leading guys in these films tend to be Ethan Hawke or Patrick Wilson these days, and this time it is Wilson’s turn. He is reliably excellent, as is Vera Farmiga who is always outstanding. Likewise both Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as the parents along with the younger cast as their five children are all very good. The film’s prologue is also superbly made and genuinely haunting, complete with an antique doll that rivals Chucky, but with more subtlety.
All this however only for me made the end result disappointing as the narrative descends into clunky predictable plot twists and tried and tested clichés used as ‘scares’. The alarm bells ring early on when the family move in, but the dog refuses to enter the house. Later that night the dog is outside barking intensely and Lilli Taylor asks Ron Livingston if the dog will be ok, to witch Livingston reassuring replies that of course the dog will be ok. The next morning, one of the daughters goes running out into the garden looking for her beloved pet all smiling and laughing, and I think we can all guess what happens next.
That is not a spoiler in terms of plot as it happens early on, but maybe a spoiler in terms of an advanced warning how Wan relies on cliché for the apparent scares and shocks. Everyone one of these moments can be seen a mile off and feels extremely like Paranormal Activity (all of those were terrible) with editing and close ups. All these moments feel so exhaustingly and depressingly familiar that The Conjuring, despite being based on a true story, is not really sure what to do in terms of story.
When the film enters the final third, Wan ups the game in terms of pace in what almost feels like an act of desperation. We have intense close ups and lots of screaming. However these supposed moments of intensity almost become farcical and verge on funny, completely undermining what remains of the entire intended tense atmosphere of what has happened before. This is all a huge shame as these are characters I felt I had grown to care about, but then a certain development makes it too ridiculous to the point of preposterous (I don’t believe I can say anymore) that I just laughed. True story or not, it is just so silly, clichéd and ultimately rubbish.
Back to that running time; I have seen many claims this allows good character development, I would argue you could easily cut off twenty minutes if The Conjuring did not feel such a need to patronisingly explain itself all the time.
Despite showing potential and containing great performances from an impressive cast, The Conjuring descends into a cliché checklist that complacently pretty much destroys any good work of the first third. All the apparent ‘scares’ are so predictable and clichéd, they border on comical. What a waste!