Does anyone want to live in Rhode Island this badly? “The Conjuring”

July 28, 2013


So, at some point since its release James Wan’s Insidious has come to be regarded as a great horror film. This genuinely befuddles me since, as I pointed out in my review, it’s pretty much okay at best. I mean, yeah, the movie had some effective chills in its first half, but once the ghost chasers start wearing WWI gas masks during their séance, and a demon that looks like a queenier Darth Maul starts prancing around to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” well, I pretty much checked out. But, hey, I guess the rest of America finds a mincing draq queen version of Hellboy a lot scarier than I do. Anyway, it’s enough to build a good deal of anticipation for Wan’s latest horror outing, The Conjuring. Having seen it I can say it’s much more derivative than Insidious—ripping off pretty much every haunted house movie made since, oh, 1979. But this also means it’s a lot less batshit crazy than Insidious, so, um, hey let’s just call it a win, okay?

The Conjuring claims to be based upon a true story. Now, I haven’t done any research on this, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that claim is complete horseshit. Because, well, for chrissakes…anyway, now that that’s out of the way we can continue.

So the movie takes place in 1971 and introduces us to a married couple of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, sporting some formidable sideburns, and Vera Farmiga, sporting some truly terrible outfits). As the movie begins they’re helping out some nubile young nurses who’ve come to be tormented by a demonic doll that they sorta sensed was haunted but figured they’d keep anyway (making them possibly the dumbest people in the history of horror movies—top ten, anyhow). Well, they take care of the situation offscreen, and we leave them for a while.

"Well, this thing is horrific. Let's keep it."

“Well, this thing is horrific. Let’s keep it.”

Next we meet the Perrons, Carolyn and Roger (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters who have traded a life in New Jersey for a large farmhouse in rural Rhode Island. Of course, this being 1) an old house, and 2) in the country, naturally it’s freaking haunted.

Now, we don’t get this all at once, but instead through a series of escalating weirdness after the youngest daughter finds an old music box and begins talking to an imaginary friend names Rory. Like Insidious, this is best part of Wan’s movie. He does a good job of ratcheting up the scares from bumps in the night, to the slow accumulation of mundane—yet unsettling—events. One of the daughter begins sleepwalking and clawing at a an old wardrobe, Carolyn begins developing weird bruises after she sleeps.

"Rory says that blouse is hideous."

“Rory says that blouse is hideous.”

Finally, after one terrifying night when the supernatural harassment hits a crescendo (possibly the scariest sequence in the film), Roger and Carolyn seek out someone who can help them. This leads them to Ed and Lorraine. The Ghost Hunters promptly move in with one of their own investigators and a local Sheriff’s deputy who doesn’t carry a gun, but wears the tightest pants ever molded from a sheet of polyester (neither of which being particularly helpful in this situation).

So, they set up a bunch of cameras and stuff and watch while the house goes monkeynuts on them. And monkeynuts it do go. We get more bumps in the night and some spectral manhandling (one daughter gets dragged through the house by her hair, causing the mother to hack it off—oh well, in a couple years she’d trade it for a Dorothy Hamill ‘do anyway). They also get a bunch of visits from a bunch of spectral figures who wail stuff like “Look at what she made me do!”

"We're just gonna move in for a few weeks and eat all your food..."

“We’re just gonna move in for a few weeks and eat all your food…”

Well, the Ghost Hunters do some research and pretty soon figure out that the house is cursed by an accused witch who killed her son as a sacrifice to Satan and she’s been dicking with people who live there ever since.

Blah blah blah there’s an exorcism, the doll shows up again, Lili Taylor is possessed by the witch and almost kills her youngest daughter, but everyone helps her shake it off and everyone lives happily after ever after. The film ends with the Warrens receiving a call from the church asking them to investigate a haunted house in Long Island—surely the Amityville house—which is weird since that’s pretty much the movie we’ve been watching.

Yeah, we're in good hands with these people.

Yeah, we’re in good hands with these people.

So, yeah, that’s The Conjuring. It starts off as The Amityville Horror, turns into Poltergeist, then becomes more or less every possession movie ever made. Oh well, no one ever accused James Wan of being an original filmmaker. And, hey, if you’re gonna rip off a bunch of movies, might as well rip off the good ones. And he is an effective filmmaker. Say this for him, he makes scary derivative movies. Unfortunately, he makes the same mistakes he did in Insidious by giving an elaborate reason for the paranormal events, which, in the end, reduces them to a simple problem to be solved. You can almost pinpoint the scene when all the terror drains away and it becomes a rote thriller.

Oh well, it’s enough to get a scary movie, and one without that damn Tiny Tim song.

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