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The Conjuring ••

Conjuring_posterStarring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Horror/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: July 19, 2013

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Scott, we just got through watching The Conjuring. Which is an odd name since no one in the movie did any conjuring.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Let’s conjure up a review, shall we?

Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston) move into an old farm home in the woods of Rhode Island. They have 5 adorable daughters who like to play hide and seek. Things are going fine when one day while playing hide and seek with her youngest, Carolyn meets up with a spook. After that things start to get really weird. Laughter comes from the hidden basement. The clocks all stop at 3:07 AM. The pictures in the hallway fall from the wall. Carolyn is freaked out and goes to a lecture at the local college where she enlists the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), two self-proclaimed paranormal investigators.

Upon visiting the house, Lorraine, who has a special psychic connection to spirits, immediately senses a ghostly presence that has latched onto the entire family.  Ed and Lorraine research the home’s history and discover that the house once belonged to an accused witch, Bathsheba who sacrificed her week-old infant, climbed to the top of a tree in the backyard, cursed all those who would take her land, professed her love for Satan, then committed suicide. The remainder of the movie consists of Ed and Lorraine’s attempt to help the Perron family rid themselves of the curse and the demonic spirits inhabiting their home.

Scott, I compare all horror movies to The Exorcist, which is easily the scariest movie I have ever seen. The Conjuring was probably the least scary movie I have ever seen. Even last April’s Scary Movie V was more frightening than this movie. The Conjuring plays out more like a documentary than a horror film. It follows the events surrounding the Perron’s haunting step-by-step. And it introduces us to the Warrens by giving us a lot of backstory to prove to the audience that they were experts in their field. I think this movie would have done well to go that route: to present the facts as a documentary about a true event. That would have been far scarier.

On a 1 to 10 scale of scariness, I’d give The Conjuring a 6.  It wasn’t close to being the most chilling movie I’ve ever seen, but there were moments when I was definitely cringing and wincing.  As scary movies go, The Conjuring was fairly effective in producing the usual false alarms and underwear-soiling “gotcha” moments.

We’ve seen movies like The Conjuring many times before.  Poltergeist comes to mind as a classic in this genre.  In every scary movie of this type, the family inhabiting the haunted house seems to perform an odd set of behaviors that accentuates their vulnerability.  In The Conjuring, the Perron family plays this weird clapping game, a form of hide-n-seek that involves blindfolding a person who is then left to feel her way blindly around the house searching for others. This game sets up tension as we, the audience, can see what ghostly booby-trap the blindfolded person is headed toward.

Sadly for me, Scott, that scene you mentioned was in the trailer and I fully expected the event. Anticipation creates suspense and if that anticipation is ruined by a spoiler, there can be no suspense.

I also had trouble with the internal logic of this movie. Why was a police officer part of the Warren party? Why would a witch hang herself after a blood sacrifice? This was supposedly a survivor of the Salem witch trials – wouldn’t she want to stay alive to reap the benefits of her sacrifice? Why did the ghost-maid claim “she made me do this” when showing off her slit wrists? I really tried to suspend my disbelief but there is only so much I can ignore before the forces of logic intrude.

When I compare this movie to The Amityville Horror (another movie based on one of the Warren’s cases) I just don’t see the appeal. That movie at least made sense within its own universe. The Conjuring was a confusing mess.

What The Conjuring lacks in originality, it makes up for in execution.  For example, a staple of the horror genre is a creepy child’s doll.  The Conjuring features one of the more disturbing-looking dolls I’ve ever seen, a doll named Annabelle who malevolently torments everyone around her.  The old creeky house with its secret compartments makes for a perfect setting for a movie of this type.  Ed and Lorraine have a nice backstory that gives them credibility as spook-hunters. All the elements are aligned here for a classic scary movie.

If I had a problem with the film, it was with the supreme idiocy of the Perron family for staying in the house once the first signs of deep trouble were made clear.  Let’s face it — If an invisible entity was grabbing your foot in the middle of the night, repeatedly, wouldn’t you consider sleeping in a different bed, say, thousands of miles away?

Well, Scott, you appear to have enjoyed yourself in this movie. I think you’ll get a chance to enjoy more of the same. One plot device that was exposed is the Warren’s museum of paranormal objects. For some reason, they keep all the haunted objects from their adventures in a closet in their home. I foresee a sort of Night Gallery where each sequel explores the backstory of one of these objects. The number of sequels could be endless.

I, on the other hand, was supremely insulted by this film. It made no sense and did not keep me in suspense for a minute. I forgot this film before I made it to the car to drive home. I was never frightened and I didn’t feel the need to sleep with the lights on. In fact, I was bored most of the time. For a ridiculous plot and uninspiring bit of storytelling I give The Conjuring 1 Reel out of 5.  I wasn’t sure who the heroes in this film were. Nobody really seemed to learn a lesson or exhibit a sense of transformation. Still the Warrens did come to the aid of the witless family and help them despite personal danger. I give them 1 Hero out of 5.

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I liked The Conjuring more than you did, Greg, because I believe it nicely fulfilled its purpose of delivering a diabolically scary tale.  The Perron family displayed just the right dose of innocence and likeability, and Ed and Lorraine were the smart, moral heroes who helped rid the wholesome family of the curse.  I wasn’t bowled over by The Conjuring but it delivered enough frightening, sphincter-tightening moments to make me happy.

What we have here is a fairly well-crafted story of demonic possession that doesn’t cover any new ground but still managed to give me my money’s worth of jitters.  I give the film 3 Reels out of 5.  I agree with you, Greg, that the hero story played second-fiddle to the overarching goal of producing scary moments. For that reason, I generously award Ed and Lorraine 2 Heroes out of 5.

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