I’m an atheist, a skeptic, and a rational human being. I don’t believe in gods, psychics, demons, ghosts, or other spooky things. That being said, I’m a huge fan of The Exorcist, and I am perfectly capable of employing the suspension of disbelief necessary to thoroughly enjoy a film about demon possession. I went into The Conjuring with an open mind, expecting to enjoy some classic horror thrills. But what I saw instead was a movie that seemed obsessed with falling into the realm of the completely absurd, destined to just be another forgotten mainstream horror film.
The Exorcist was tempered in its execution, relying on traditional scares, clever lighting, and superb sound design to sell you on its premise, and that’s why it was so effective. The Conjuring starts out following this time-tested formula, but soon devolves into nonsensical crap, stabbing your suspension of disbelief to death with one of the silliest exorcisms ever to haunt a horror movie, floating shotguns and biting demons included.
The story follows the Perron family who just purchased an old house in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Soon after moving in, the family is haunted by numerous spirits, and things just seem to get worse as time goes on. Something evil is in this house, and it clearly wants the Perron family dead. With their options running out, the family seeks the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), two demonologists who specialize in dealing with creatures from another world.
Lorraine is a clairvoyant capable of seeing images from the past, and it doesn’t take her long to figure out that the evil spirit of a witch named Bathsheba (Joseph Bishara) is behind the worst of the disturbances. However, conducting an exorcism of the house will require church approval, and that means the gathering of evidence, using all the typical ghost-busting methods you’ve seen in countless other films –- automated cameras, black lights, audio recordings, etc.
Most of the film up until this point involved effective scares: hands that would emerge from a wardrobe and clap, an invisible spirit that would stand behind a door, photos that would fall from the wall, doors that would slam on their own, and something pulling on the foot of a young girl at night. All of this worked well to send chills down my spine, but it’s short lived once the Warrens take center stage.
Once they dominate the movie, The Conjuring morphs into an adventure film, with the Warrens trying to save the family before time runs out. It’s a cheap way to form a narrative, and it turns a scary movie into one that features little more than sub-par suspense. By the time we get to Patrick Wilson pulling out his cross like a gangster to exorcise him some demon ass, I was already looking forward to leaving the theatre.
I have to imagine that even hard-core Christians are going to find the religious aspects of The Conjuring to be quite silly. It certainly has an undertone of faith throughout, legitimizing the existence of demons with its “based on a true story” gimmick. This marketing ploy may serve to sell tickets, but it won’t fool anyone once they’ve actually sat through an hour of the movie.
I don’t necessarily mind when a film claims to be based on actual events – it’s the job of the audience to investigate how true a work really is. However, if you’re going to try and sell a movie as if it’s based on reality, you may want to try and ground it in reality somewhat. And having scenes that feature floating upside down chairs, guns that fly around and fire themselves, and evil dolls that terrorize children is not the way to do it.
Ed and Lorraine Warren are very real people. Lorraine still investigates the paranormal to this day, despite her husband’s death back in 2006. The couple is best known for “investigating” the Amityville Horror case. Like most peddlers of magic powers, none of the work of the real-life Warrens has ever been confirmed as true. Still, that doesn’t stop The Conjuring from making the duo look like altruistic heroes, using science to confirm their theology. This certainly is not actually the case, but, hey, it’s a movie. A movie with sequels. Judging by the way The Conjuring unfolds, it looks as though the adventures of the Warrens will continue into a franchise — not that you’ll want to see any more of them after you see this.