Review of 2013 Horror Film The Conjuring By James Wan, Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Grade: C / 30% Conjuring poster.jpg

Summary: The weakness of ‘putting everything in to impress’  hovers over James Wan’s The Conjuring throughout, until it becomes a tedious exercise to watch the film




Ed and Lorraine Sullivan is a ghost-busting couple who are professionally called ‘demonologists’. Their job description: to visit supposedly haunted properties either to a) detect any troublesome supernatural presence and get rid of it or b) debunk the rumors using rational explanations. They record their findings on tapes and video cameras to i) send it to the Vatican as evidence of demonic activity to get sanctioned for conducting exorcisms, and ii) to use it during presentations when they’re conducting seminars all over town. And you thought they were making home videos, did you? Those would be some nasty memories to keep! Lorraine is a clairvoyant, so she can see things other can’t and visit people’s memories and get a feel of their past experiences. It’s a gift in case of happy memories, but looking at the nature of her profession, it doesn’t seem like she gets many happy things to see.

When the Warrens visit the Perron family, who invite them after being traumatized by a demonic entity in their newly purchased farmhouse, it doesn’t take time before Lorraine senses that things are going to get messy. Seriously messy. This time, the spirit isn’t camera shy to lurk in the shadows until the very end of the film. It gives Lorraine an eerie welcome, hovering behind Roger Perron, the head of the family, when he opens the main door. The spirit then floats near Roger’s children as he and his wife Carolyn introduce their five (yes, five. This actually happened in 1971, according to the Sullivans) girls to Ed and Lorraine. A few moments later, bammm, Lorraine sees a woman hanging from the tree (i.e. the spirit; yes, it’s a woman again that haunts) close to the lake nearby. “The spirit has latched on to your family. So it’ll follow you wherever you go” she then explains to Roger and Carolyn, thus putting an end to our common doubt: ‘Why don’t the guys just leave?’. An exorcism needs to be conducted, but the Vatican needs proof before sanctioning an approval. Our demonologists, like the 70s version of Ghosthunters, then begin installing cameras and mics all over the house, recruiting two other guys, Drew and Brad, for this twisted venture. They also have ‘UV lights’ that track foot-marks etc; I remember this object so well because Brad tells Drew during the film ‘I need the UV LIGHTS’ with such great emphasis on ‘UV Lights’ I thought it for a moment it was product placement.

Day one, or rather Night one remains relatively ‘unghostly’ except for a highly intractable door that’ll shut on people’s faces without warning. Its night two when things begin to shake up. We’ve already had a teaser even before Sullivans’ entry;  one girl is yanked by her legs every night, another sleepwalks to a closet every time while the littlest one (like all littlest ones in horror movies do) keeps talking to an imaginary friend who later turns out to be ‘one of them little ghosts’. Now the evil spirit is incensed all the more because of the Christian crosses Ed has placed in all the rooms. She does everything in her powers to destroy the Perrons, and unlike some other spirits who circumscribe themselves to two-to-four tried-and-tested torture tactics, she has free rein here. She possesses the sleepwalking girl and takes her up to a secret area within the closet, she sends another one flying across the room, she drags the third by her hair, she flings objects at everybody etc. Other spirits make guest appearances too: the little ghost Rory, the knife-yielding maid and… yeah, I think that’s it. When the evil spirit (a witch when she lived) possesses Carolyn, all hell breaks loose, with louder screaming, birds crashing, stuff flinging, cupboards crashing, Carolyn bleeding, Ed chanting, girls wailing…, and exhaustion sets in. Free rein to ghosts ain’t really a good thing, is it?

James Wan by Gage Skidmore.jpg

James Wan

The weakness of ‘putting everything in to impress’  hovers over James Wan’s The Conjuring throughout, until it becomes an exercise to watch the film. Even when the spirit is introduced, James tries to put in as many ‘Spirit Alert!’ signs as possible. Repeating a few scare tactics but making them all the more frightening each time they appeared would’ve done the trick, for example, it was unnerving to know what was in store for the girl who had her leg yanked every-time. But Wan does a lot many other things too, which quickly turn laborious. ‘Not scared of leg yanking? How about clocks stopping? Or birds dying? Or things breaking?’ is Wan’s attitude here, and it doesn’t work.

The characters in the film are too many. Ed and Lorraine were required obviously, and so were the Perron couple. But five girls plus Drew and Brad? And so many ghosts? We don’t know the girls to well nor the ghosts. And the film has a climax that wants us to be emotionally connected with Carolyn and the girls. Are we emotionally connected? Not really. More importantly, is Conjuring scary? Nope! My clairvoyance tells me I’ve seen far better horror films: Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby, Drag Me To Hell, to name a few. I went to Conjuring wondering what nightmares shall haunt me, but I guess it’s a good night’s sleep for me.


3 thoughts on “Review of 2013 Horror Film The Conjuring By James Wan, Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

  1. Nice review. Even though I wouldn’t consider it terribly scary, I would still say it’s a bunch of fun, especially if the horror genre is one of, if not your favorites.

    • In my opinion, the power of imagery has the maximum effect in horror films. Take the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, for example. A mother is brutally stabbed to death in the basement by her possessed child at the climax.

      The scene worked so well because

      a) we empathize with both the mother and child who are facing a terrible peril

      b) we are horrified by the nature of this scene i.e. to imagine that such a situation would happen in this film, although we could foresee this moment (similar to Oedipus Rex where we pray that something happens to obviate the fateful moment i.e. Oedipus realizing that he unknowingly murdered his own father, the king of Thebes and was therefore to be banished from the kingdom), and

      c) the macabre imagery magnificently evokes a feeling of terror, plus the decision to avoid colorizing the film helps in extruding the inherent qualities of this scene

      Same is the case with movies such as Blair Witch Project (the deadly ending), Rosemary’s Baby (the mother apparently accepting her demonic infant), Paranormal Activity 1 (we eventually sympathize with the couple and therefore are horrified by their situation), Odishon (the angelic young girl’s turn into a sadistic, psychotic female during the hallucinatory sequence) or even the 1932 film Freaks (the female nemesis transmogrified into a chicken lady by circus freaks). The moment you begin empathizing with the protagonists, you are horrified by the conditions they are subjected to. That, in my opinion, should be the true quality of horror films. It isn’t a creaking door that scares me. Rather, I fear that the protagonist I’m rooting for is going to see or face something he shouldn’t.

      I’m not a snob when it comes to horror movies. I relish jump scare films like Scream (and its sequels), Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead. Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects is one of my favorite horror films. But I wasn’t a fan of his previous movie House of 1000 Corpses, which took itself too seriously for a movie that mainly had cheap thrills.

      Talking about Conjuring, what disappointed me was the lack of concern I felt for any of the characters. I didn’t care for the girls nor the ghosts, so why should I bother when one girl sleepwalks up to a closet every night or another is yanked by an invisible force. The spirit herself was hardly scary and I hated the cheesy effect where the camera zooms in quickly on the spirit when she’s perched on top of the closet, ready to pounce. The exorcism performed on the mother was an embarrassing moment because it used none of the genuinely terrifying potential inherent in the moment. I was more hoping to see what Vera Farmiga’s character saw during the exorcism performed on that scary looking man in the archival recordings. That would have certainly horrified me.

  2. Pingback: The Conjuring — Lessons in Magical Memories | A Lively Experiment

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