So I guess I should eat my words a little bit… well done James Wan, you managed to prove you can direct some scares after all!
When writing the synopsis for horror films, it always sounds the same:
When a family move into a new house in the countryside they find themselves noticing an increasing amount of supernatural goings on. But when these ghostly happenings start to target their children, the parents decide to call in two experts to investigate…
On paper The Conjuring sounds like every single haunted house story that has ever come before it, and that’s because it sort of is. Familiar ground is tread frequently here, even from director James Wan’s own arsenal (the deplorable Insidious) but happily I can report that The Conjuring delivers a great dollop of spooky atmosphere and deliver tropes and cliches well enough that they prove decent amounts of scares.
Patrick Wilson is back, but this time he isn’t playing the victim but the analytical partner of the investigative team, Ed Warren, and beside him Vera Farmiga as his clairvoyant wife Lorraine. Together they want to help the Perron family who, not a day or two after moving into their new home, lose their dog and find a dusty, sealed basement in their house.
The film boasts the tried and tested “Based on a true story” tagline, but of course this can be taken with a pinch of salt, it comes with all the Hollywood trappings of a classic possession story. Spooky doll? Check. Spooky girl? Check (the Pessons actually have five daughters to utilize for scares!) Spooky tree? Check. Spooky piano and music box? Check and check. If all of this is to be believed then I guess reality isn’t so far from a screenwriter’s dreams after all!
Wilson and Farmiga deliver decent performances, the character of Lorraine definitely stealing the show being at the centre of most of the film’s quieter, tense scenes. But Lili Taylor’s casting as the mother was transparent. I don’t like criticising this, but when an actor/actress becomes typecast to this degree within a single genre the plot becomes predictable!
But for what it is worth, The Conjuring delivers a lot of good tension and murky atmosphere. It is hard to believe this is directed by the man who directed Insidious… they are very different in tone and substance. It might be full of tropes and maybe a little forgettable, but I am fairly certain you will be avoiding mirrors, looking over your shoulder and questioning any bump in the night for a while afterwards. And that’s what is important.
Additional Marshmallows: For a film called “The Conjuring” there wasn’t a whole lot of conjuring going on.
Additional additional Marshmallows: The cinema where I worked when this film released proved to me how few people could pronounce the title. CON-JEW-RAN.