Let me preface this by saying I’m a massive fan of horror films. I was excited to see The Conjuring garnering such positive reviews, including being hailed as “the scariest film ever”. With a relatively tiny $20 million budget, which it apparently made back in its opening night in the States, it was a film full of promise. The fact that it was directed by James Wan, the man responsible for Saw and Insidious did leave me with niggling doubts that it might not live up to that original promise.
Based on “real events”, the film follows the paranormal activity experienced by the Perron family (Ma and Pa Perron played by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) in 1971. The plot follows the Standard Haunted House Horror Film (TM) format almost to the letter:
A family looking to “start afresh” move into a house which they have bought without finding out about it’s history. The family move all their belongings in, but disturb something along the way (maybe they find a haunted board game, doll in the attic or a hidden corridor or room). Strange noises start at night and unexplained things begin to happen to the family, normally centering on either the youngest child or a teenage girl. The family then seek outside help, be it from a priest or paranormal investigator. When investigations begin, that’s when the real trouble starts, normally with a special-effects-filled-finale.
In the case of The Conjuring, the outside help comes from Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) , paranormal investigators with extensive experience under their belts. Indeed the real Warren’s also investigated The Amityville Horror. However, that experience doesn’t stop them from finding themselves at the mercy of whatever evil the house holds and they find themselves trying to battle to save both the Perrons, and their own family.
The Conjuring offers a few genuine jumps in the first 45 minutes, (you can’t go wrong with the old “something is hiding under the bed” scare) but then falls into the trap of cliche after cliche. Predictability never translates into genuine scares, so the remainder of the film plays out as a tired homage to 70’s and 80’s horror such at The Exorcist and Poltergeist. The cast are one of the only redeeming features, all turning in admirably believable performances amidst all the hokum. Every scene is very well put together, and well-paced, but ultimately it didn’t work as a film for me, feeling like a horror-by-numbers rather than becoming more than the sum of its parts.
If you are wanting a few cheap scares, and some decent acting, it wouldn’t be a bad way to spend an evening, but for me it was a big disappointment, a pastiche of horror hokum.
3 out of 5