Maybe I am too jaded as a seasoned audience and amateur critic, but I could not help but be sarcastic about the prologue of “The Conjuring”, which kindly emphasizes to us that everything depicted in the movie is based on a real-life incident. Seriously, how could I believe its serious statements when it was pretty clear that it would go into the familiar supernatural territory of “The Exorcist”(1973), “The Amityville Horror”(1979), and other countless horror films about malevolently dilapidated houses or insidiously disturbing possessions?
Speaking of “The Amityville Horror”, “The Conjuring” is based on one of those questionable incidents reported by the very couple who inspired that movie: Ed and Lorraine Warren. They gained their ‘reputation’ as paranormal investigators while publishing several books on their investigations, but I have no idea about whether they witnessed real supernatural incidents or whether they just thought they did. Sure, you may enjoy their stories, but you cannot possibly serious about a demonic werewolf or a haunted house when there is no credible scientific evidence to support their claims.
Anyway, the movie believes in its supernatural elements, and it did a credible job of constructing an insidious house made of various horror movie conventions at the remote rural place in Harrisville, Rhode Island. This house looks pretty nice from the outside, and its interior does not look bad though it needs some more repair and remodeling, but you know they are going to be in trouble because 1) the family dog is reluctant about going inside the house, and 2) they find a hidden entrance to the basement where lots of suspicious things have been stored, and 3) there is an old big tree outside the house which looks like being imported from “Sleepy Hollow”(1999), and 4) the youngest daughter finds a grimy music box toy which sounds pretty good even though it seemed to be manufactured at least 100 years ago.
Understandably, everything looks fine to the Perron family during their first days at the house. Carolyn and Roger(Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) are glad to buy this house at a reasonable price through a local bank auction, and their lovely five daughters get quickly accustomed to their new environment. Too bad they are living in the 1970s – they would instantly recognize minor but disturbing signs around them if they were familiar with “The Amityville Horror” or other subsequent haunted house movies.
But, like any normal people would in their circumstance, they slowly come to recognize that there is something in their house. They hear voices and sounds during nights, and they keep having a problem with the temperature maintenance in the house, and they also smell something stinking. Furthermore, Carolyn finds inexplicable bruises on her body whenever she wakes up in the morning, and her youngest daughter talks with an unseen entity as her new friend when she is alone.
And that is just the beginning, and the Perrons’ circumstance gets worse and worse. One of their notably sensible reactions is that they immediately approach to the experts of paranormal activities, who are none other than Ed and Lorraine Warren(Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). After handling some bad case a few months ago, Ed and Lorraine decide to take a break while giving lectures from time to time, but they feel the urgency when they meet Carolyn after one of their lectures, so they go to the Perron family house along with two other people assisting them. One of them is a police officer, and I must say it is rather refreshing to see a policemen in the movie willingly assisting the paranormal investigators in spite of his mild skepticism.
If you are an experienced moviegoer like me, I bet you have a pretty good idea about what will be served after that point. As a clairvoyant, Lorraine instantly senses an unknown malevolent force shrouding not only the house but also the Perrons, and she sees some disturbing hallucinations as she looks around the house and the surrounding environment. With the recording equipments set inside the house, Ed searches for the evidences which can get him a permission for exorcism from the Catholic Church. The dark history behind the house is revealed(an amusing IMDB trivia: “The state of Rhode Island does not require home sellers to disclose documented paranormal and supernatural hauntings to potential buyers.”), and the things become more perilous than before in the house whenever it gets dark, and, yes, Ed and Lorraine come to realize that it may be too late for the Perrons or themselves if they do not take care of this supernatural danger as soon as possible.
As the bodies and objects are moved around a lot on the screen during the second half, its credibility as a ‘real-life story’ is virtually thrown out of the window, but the director James Wan and his crew give us a competent haunted house movie which knows that good scary movie mainly depends on mood and suspense rather than shock. Its ominous atmosphere is well maintained on the screen, and the screenplay by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes does not feel tedious as steadily tuning suspense and shock throughout the running time. Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, and their co-actors are convincing in their earnest performances, and their characters are more than terrified cardboards. One nice scene is involved with Ed’s private office which looks like a museum of the damned objects, and I could see lots of potentials from that spooky place which must have many other supernatural stories to tell.
“The Conjuring”, which got R-rating even though it does not have any particularly gory scene, confirms again that the director James Wan has advanced a lot since his breakthrough film “Saw”(2004), a torture porn film I disliked. He is a good director who knows how to set the mood and how to assemble genre conventions for entertaining the audiences, but I think the movie could have been a little more than that. It goes without saying that this is a well-made film, but I could never get wholly engaged with what happened on the screen, and I did not get scared enough to recommend it to you. What the hell, some of you don’t probably watch more than 5 horror films every year unlike me, you may be more scared or entertained than I was.
I shudder to think of the critics obligation of having to see films they dislike–Mr Ebert felt so…
SC: Think about “The Human Centipede”(2009) and its sequel…
You make me curious..
Seems more uhuhuh