Friday, July 19, 2013

The Conjuring / ** (R)

Ed Warren: Patrick Wilson
Lorraine Warren: Vera Farmiga
Roger Perron: Ron Livingston
Carolyn Perron: Lili Taylor
Andrea: Shanely Caswell
Nancy: Haley McFarlane
Christine: Joey King
Cindy: Mackenzie Foy
April: Kyla Deaver

Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema present a film directed by James Wan. Written by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes. Running time: 112 min. Rated R (for sequences of disturbing violence and terror).

I have to get something out of my system before I really get into this review. In the opening scene, the demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, are interviewing two women. A man sits next to the women. It is never stated who he is or why he is there. He is not involved in the incident the two women describe. Who is this man? What is he doing there? Was something cut from the scene? Did I miss something? Why is his presence never explained? And no, he’s not a ghost. He sits there as the women describe their supernatural experience. I thought maybe their experience was a fraud and he was manipulating the doll they claimed was possessed. But it wasn’t him. He didn’t do it. He never says a word. Why is he there?!!!! This is maddening.

There is a sense in watching “The Conjuring” that the people who made it watched a lot of similar movies. Not only is the story the same as about ten other films that come almost instantly to mind, but also there are moments in the film when it seems like the filmmakers are just going through the paces of what they’ve seen before in other movies. The details are almost the same, even when they shouldn’t be. “The Conjuring” is scary, but it’s far from original.

We are introduced to Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens are real people who were best known for their involvement with the real life events upon which the film and book “The Amityville Horror” was based. Ed and Lorraine were paranormal investigators and lecturers. Lorraine professed to be clairvoyant and worked closely with her husband on cases. One such case involved the Perron family and is so similar to the Amityville case; it’s hard not to wonder how much that had to do with the constant between the two cases, the Warrens.

This film is about the Perron case. Up until the final moments, it could just stand in as the second remake of “The Amityville Horror”, complete with the old white two and half story house on the lake, the period costumes, the family dog that is more aware that something is not right than the people, the brooding husband, the creepy basement, and the supernatural events occurring just after 3 a.m. every night. Punctuality is such an admirable trait in ghosts and demons. One difference is the fact that the Perrons are a family of seven. Roger and Carolyn are the parents of five girls. That’s a lot of estrogen. From what I understand about women, with six against one, their nights in that house would’ve ended at the first occurrence of something strange.

Despite my criticisms, “The Conjuring” is scary. The writers, Chad and Carey Hayes (“The Reaping”), create a device through which the entity will eventually make contact with the family in the form of a hide and seek type of game where one person is blindfolded and stumbles about in search of the others who have to clap when they are called out to do so. This makes for one of the biggest scares of the film, which unfortunately has been ruined to some degree by the advertizing campaign. It’s used in a couple of other instances, however, with a nice disturbing effect.

Director James Wan continues to display a great skill at manipulating sound to terrifying effect. Wan’s use of sound made his last horror film, “Insidious”, one of the scariest of 2010. Here the sound effects are subtler, which doesn’t mean that they are at all subtle. Silence and darkness are considerable tools for Wan. There are some scenes where all you can see is a person’s face and no surroundings at all. You keep waiting for something to show up in the background. With the amount of banging and knocking that take place in this house, it’s a wonder why the Perrons didn’t run right out and buy a hi-fidelity stereo system to drown it out.

There are other horror/haunted house elements that seem to be here because the filmmakers think they’re supposed to be, or because this story always has them. With a force as formidable as the one being dealt with here, what could boarding up the cellar without even fastening the boards down with nails possibly accomplish? There’s a scene when the invisible entity starts to attack everyone in the household. One person is dragged around a room by her hair until someone grabs some scissors and cuts off the end being grabbed by an invisible hand. Do such physical laws mean anything to such a force? Details like this bring me out of the created reality of the movie by making me question the logic of the supernatural ideals on display. It might look neat, but does it make any sense in terms of the use of this power?

For many “The Conjuring” is going to be exactly what they are looking for from a horror movie. It will make you jump out of your seat. You’ll have a hard time not telling the characters out loud just what they’re doing wrong. But, it comes across as a story I’ve seen too many times; and one that I’ve seen on a couple of occasions done much better. If you’re looking for a great haunted house movie, look no further than the original 1979 “The Amityville Horror” or the more recent “The House of the Devil”. “The Conjuring” is a pale imitation that tries to sell itself as more legitimate by focusing on the real life ghost hunters who inspired “Amityville.”

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