‘The Conjuring’ is a new film by James Wan, the director known for ‘Saw’ (2004) and ‘Insidious’ (2010). The film, initially titled ‘The Warren Files’, is based on a real story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple who investigated paranormal activities back in 1970s and 80s. The investigators in the film are played by Patrick Wilson (‘Hard Candy’ (2005), ‘Insidious’) and Vera Farmiga (‘Up in the Air’ (2009), ‘The Departed’ (2006)). The story takes place in the 1970s and details the haunting of the Perron family’s home in Rhode Island. The family, a couple and their five daughters, moves into a farm house in Harrisville and soon experiences strange happenings in their house. When the family calls in investigators to help them, they realise that their greatest fears are only beginning to transpire into their day-to-day reality.
One thing which can be said for certain is that ‘The Conjuring’ is genuinely scary, and some scenes must give the viewer waves of goose bumps. The acting is great, the camerawork is good and the story is gripping. As with ‘Insidious’, the first part of the movie could not be better – it is scary, filled with mystery and truly immerses the viewer into the atmosphere of fear, apprehension and uncertainty. James Wan achieves success in creating the right atmosphere, and this maybe because he modelled the film’s cinematography after vintage 1970s horror films. The second part of ‘The Conjuring’ is better than that found in ‘Insidious’: James Wan seems to have taken into account criticisms made to ‘Insidious’, and when the investigators do arrive at the house in the movie’s second part, the scene is not comic at all.
Another amazing thing about this movie is that, although ‘The Conjuring’ does not go outside the boundaries of a typical horror film, i.e. there is this “done-to-death” theme of a haunted house and a haunted doll, James Wan nevertheless manages to present the story in a fresh light. There will be some nice surprises along the way, and the film’s stunning exorcism practice scenes can surely rival those found in the classic ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).
Arguably, the biggest trouble with ‘The Conjuring’ is that James Wan et al. do not want to let go of any typical horror movie’s salient features. To that effect, the crew decided to throw into the movie every imaginable horror detail: from a scary doll ala ‘Child’s Play’ (1988) to a troubled ghost “psychopathic” mother ala ‘Mama’ (2013) and other demonic creatures, as well as birds from well, ‘The Birds’ (1963). In that way, by the movie’s end, one may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of ghostly encounters happening all at the same time, arguably just like in recent ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012). This is so despite the fact that, according to the true story behind the movie, there were indeed many incidents of forced death reported at the Perrons’ house, including two suicides, a rape, a death of a young girl, a poisoning incident and a death of four men frozen to death. The conclusion is that ‘The Conjuring’ tries to play it too safe, appearing a perfect horror flick, only at the expense of instilling great confusion and producing a very unsatisfying ending.
The confusion is created by other means as well. At the beginning of the movie, the audience starts to follow two completely different plot lines. First, we see the investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, together with their daughter and the incident surrounding the mysterious doll, Annabel. Then, obviously, we have the ghostly incidents on the farm with the Perrons being the main protagonists. It would have been nice (and provide much clarity and logic to the story!) if we were to see some clear link between the “doll horror” story shown at the beginning and “the haunted house” story that we follow right to the very end. The plot with the broken doll Annabel was never really elaborated further, and the audience are left clueless as to the identity of a spirit possessing the doll. Also, no matter how many sequels are there to follow ‘The Conjuring’ to clarify the matter, this present film’s ending remains somewhat disappointing.
There are also other evident inconsistencies. As with ‘Insidious’, the arrival of investigators at the farmhouse in ‘The Conjuring’ marks the prolonged disappearance of all strange happenings at the house, and it seems that from then on, only religious artifacts could anger the spirits and set off yet another chain of ghostly encounters.
Overall, despite the film’s unsatisfying ending, confused story-line and sporadic over-the-top scenes, ‘The Conjuring’ is still a high quality horror movie overall. Moreover, it is so scary, it becomes a “must-see” film for horror fans. 7/10
Regarding the ending, it is unbelievable to finally see the credits rolled in. The ending is inconclusive and a bit unsatisfying. Even if the “hateful” spirit was successfully exorcised and sent back to hell, what happened to all other spirits in the house? Surely they must still be there? Does it mean that they found peace too, as their “mother” was sent to hell, and they will not trouble anyone anymore? Or, these spirits were so friendly to begin with that their presence did not cause any discomfort? Well, neither of these two explanations seems plausible.
There are also a number of similarities between the Warren case and a more famous one – the Amityville Horror case, which concerns the haunting of George and Kathy Lutz’s house by a demonic presence after a gruesome mass murder of a family of six. For example, Lutz family said at that time that one of them always woke at 3:15 am to check the boats – the alleged time of the killing (the clocks in ‘The Conjuring’ always stopped at some precise time too), and Lutz’s five year old daughter created an imaginary friend, just as it happened in ‘The Conjuring’.