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New Release Review - The Conjuring

A couple who investigate paranormal activity are asked to help a family who are terrorized by demonic forces.

Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston


Carolyn and Roger Perron (Taylor and Livingston) move into a rundown Rhode Island farmhouse with their five daughters. Immediately, strange and inexplicable occurrences begin to plague the house; Carolyn finds deep bruises on her body, all the clocks stop at exactly seven minutes past three every morning, and the girls are physically harassed by an unseen presence. When the events escalate and two of the girls are attacked by a ghost resembling an old hag, Carolyn contacts Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga), a couple who are renowned for their work in the field of paranormal investigation. When the Warrens arrive, they quickly realize this will be their toughest task yet.
At some point in the last couple of years "torture porn" died its long overdue death, to be replaced by a new cycle of possession/exorcism/haunting movies, mostly drawing inspiration from seventies frightfests like 'The Exorcist' and 'The Amityville Horror'. They've all been awful, with the exception of 'The Innkeepers', which at least gave us some realistic and likable characters even if its director, Ti West, couldn't drum up much in the way of scares. One of the worst of this recent crop was 2010's 'Insidious', whose demonic villain drew unintentional laughs due to his uncanny resemblance to Darth Maul. That film's director, Wan, who inadvertently launched "torture porn" with the now unfairly derided 'Saw' back in 2004, returns with 'The Conjuring' a homage to seventies horror, in particular 'The Amityville Horror', which was also "based" on a case undertaken by the Warrens.
If Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay decided to make horror films they'd likely resemble the crash/bang/swoosh style of Wan. His formula for 'Insidious' and now 'The Conjuring' is to mine every spook-house cliche in the first two acts and finish things off by throwing as much detritus at the viewer as possible in the final act, with an expository scene in which the troubled family are told that leaving the house won't help them, just to shut up those smartasses in the audience who insist on shouting "Get out of the damn house!". The cliches come thick and fast here; girls are pulled out of their beds and bang their heads against closet doors in a trance ('Paranormal Activity'), birds fly kamikaze style into the house ('Amityville Horror', 'Dark Skies') and a soccer ball rolls out of the shadows ('The Changeling'). The latter is actually the strangest of all the film's occurrences, given the setting is the U.S in 1971. Just in case the haunted house antics don't float your boat, there's a subplot involving a demonic doll, because we've never seen that before. Cliches don't necessarily make for a bad film of course but Wan uses them in a dull checklist manner, injecting nothing original into the brew.
The most bizarre aspect of 'The Conjuring' is that the film claims to be based on a true story. This would lead you to expect an element of ambiguity to the story but Wan is basically throwing himself behind the Warrens, in the process legitimizing a couple who are essentially a pair of con artists. During the film we see footage the Warrens claim to have shot which shows incredible phenomena, including an upside down crucifix appearing under a possession victim's flesh. Of course, in reality the Warrens never shot any such footage and if they had it would be the most famous piece of footage ever filmed. For Wan to show this is highly disrespectful to the many victims of the Warrens' con tricks and amounts to little more than Christian propaganda. A title card is even included in which the real Ed Warren tells us that "The Devil exists. God exists." Well I'm glad Wan was able to find such a reputable source to clear up humanity's most pondered question. Maybe he should ask the Devil for some tips on scaring cinema-goers.
2/10


Eric Hillis

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