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Everyone and his dog (Kujo, presumably) is calling The Conjuring the sleeper hit of the summer. Well it wasn’t a sleeper hit for all of us – I’d been waiting with the pent up excitement of a flea stuck to fly paper for this movie to arrive. James Wan and Patrick Wilson are fast becoming the horror dream team, at least as far as I’m concerned. If this continues I may actually forgive Wan for unleashing Saw onto the world. Patrick Wilson doesn’t need to apologise for anything. Ever. Ever.
It is also, rather unfairly, being regarded as the entrée to Insidious 2 which arrives in cinemas in September. Now I loved Insidious and I am optimistic about the sequel – but there’s more to The Conjuring than just filler. The Conjuring opens with the story of Annabelle – a Hollywood retelling of one of the Warren’s ‘real life’ cases. A young woman is given a doll, but afterwards peculiar things begin to happen around her apartment – the doll moves on its own, etc. The young woman and her room mate come to believe that the doll is possessed by the spirit of a young girl who died in the apartment. Feeling sorry for the child, they invite her spirit to inhabit the doll. After this the haunting gets far worse and takes on a more unsettling aspect. Annabelle begins to hammer on doors, leave messages and finally in an act of rage, trashes a room of the apartment, scrawling on the walls and scratching the faces off pictures of the girls. They throw the doll into the garbage, only for her to return of her own accord. Finally the girls call in the Warrens.
The Warrens declare that Annabelle is not the friendly ghost she claims to be – ghosts do not possess inanimate objects. Rather she is a demon, masquerading as a dead child and using the doll as a conduit on route to possessing one or all of the flat mates. Inviting the demon into the doll and into their home gave it more power. The Warren’s arrange to have the apartment cleansed and remove the doll for installation in their charming Museum of Occult objects. Which they keep…in the basement of their house. That’s the kind of thing that would be totally unbelievable…if it weren’t true. The mother load of possessed hoodoo, all kept in one place…a suburban basement, mere meters away from the place their young daughter sleeps. Next we meet the Perron’s, a charming family of 7 (you’d assume they were Catholics but you’d be wrong) with 5 daughters (oh dear god). They have just moved into a new home, a Rhode Island farm house.
Because this is a horror film, a family moving into a new home has predictable results. The youngest daughter finds a music box underneath a creepy tree in the garden. The family dog refuses to enter the house and the next morning is found dead outside. A boarded up cellar is discovered, full of creepy old possessions. A game of hide and clap becomes a terrifying ordeal. Family pictures are thrown from the walls. One girl begins sleep walking. The youngest daughter discovers an invisible friend. There’s a sinister wardrobe which most certainly doesn’t lead to Narnia. Another daughter is yanked from her bed by an invisible force and can see a terrifying creature in her room – invisible to everyone else. Finally the eldest girls are attacked and trapped inside their bedroom. Oh and there’s a bird strike. Can’t have horror films without a bird strike. It’s a new rule – apparently.
This is the point when the family call in the Warrens who begin their investigations and do some digging into the history of the farmhouse. After this, things get really disturbing. And believe me, there are some really scary moments in The Conjuring. Hand clapping: The use of hide and clap creates some terrifying moments, culminating in the first wardrobe encounter. It reminded me a little of the knock on wood scenes from The Orphanage. The theme is picked up gain later when the mother ends up in the entrance to the basement.
The thing in the corner: The scenes with the daughter who is grabbed during the night by the feet is very effective. The slow, relentless build-up is agonisingly tense. The description of the smell of rotting flesh whenever a malignant entity is present is very effective. But the most impressive thing about this scene is that we don’t see anything. The girl can see an evil creature standing behind the door, staring at her – but both the audience and the family members can see nothing. The big reveal comes later.
That god damn wardrobe: In it, on it, outside it, behind it – not since Narnia has a wardrobe been used so extensively. It’s a thing of evil. Pure evil. The scene where Bathsheba first appears on screen is SYP scary (as in – new undies required). The bedroom scene: no, it’s nothing kinky. I don’t want to ruin the entire film but there’s a moment in the film where Carolyn Perron goes to have a lie down. This would be SYP scary scene number 2.
Having said that, there are some very silly scenes in there too:
Kid levitating: it’s not scary. It’s never scary. It just looks stupid. Please stop using this stupid effect. Having an invisible creature throwing someone around a room by their ankles is hysterically funny – how could it be anything else? Fat chick in the basement: nope. Exorcism levitation: I’m not a big fan of exorcism scenes – they all end pretty predictably. This one was ok – except for the inclusion of another stupid levitation. Clearly having discovered this trick – they wanted to make sure they milked it for all it was worth. It looked stupid the first time, it got worse.
And things inevitably get a bit silly in the second half. Silly and predictable. There are still a few good scares but everything begins to play out in the usual way – stopping just short of the Indian burial ground, but taking in the usual collection of ghosts, witches and devil worship. What had promised to be an interesting development to the standard storyline, turned out instead to be the set up for a possible sequel. All the stuff with Annabelle was pretty pointless – except as a method to add tension and a bit of personal interest for the Warrens. Likely the creepy bitch will appear in any future editions. There was a deliciously mysterious reference to a former exorcism which went horribly wrong and traumatised Lorraine – but again, we’d have to wait for a sequel to find out more.
I for one would be very happy to see a sequel to this movie. It has more going for it than a lot of ghost genre horrors. The two paranormal investigators are provided with good characters and Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga are both fabulous – with great on screen chemistry. Hopefully, however, they will play it less safe with any potential sequels. This is generic, though well done, with touches of originality but there is a lot of promise – hints of things to come. I only hope they take more chances next time around.