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The Conjuring Movie Review - -

The Conjuring
Reviewed by Damien Straker on July 15th, 2013
presents a film directed by James Wan
Screenplay by Chad and Carey Hayes
Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston
Running Time: 112 minutes
Rating: MA15+
Released: July 18th, 2013



The only lesson to take from The Conjuring is never to trust "Amityville Real Estate". This terribly cliché and derivative haunted house movie is based on a supposedly true story. It's from the archives of Ed Warren and his wife Lorraine, two demonologists and paranormal investigators. If you believe this tosh you'll also believe they have seen vampires, werewolves and performed exorcisms. They did establish a legitimate organisation in 1952 called "The New England Society for Psychic Research". For all of its scientific breakthroughs involving vampires, this work has never prevented them from earning good dollars. After being discharged from the Second World War, Ed attended art school and painted houses that he said were haunted and then sold them.

One of their most famous cases was the Amityville story. In 1974 Ronald DeFeo shot his six family members to death as they lay asleep in their beds in a property in Amityville, Long Island. The following year, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the same house and claimed it was haunted. Ed and Lorraine were the lead paranormal investigators. Despite entire books debunking the supernatural aspect of the case, calling it a hoax, the Warrens became consultants on the terrible film adaptation four years later. It was followed by ten follow-up films, including a remake and a new entry releasing this year. Though they would deny it, the Warrens are also religiously motivated. They were devout Catholics and on one of their websites, Warren is quoted as saying: "And I know that [Biblical beliefs] are facts because I've seen and I've heard and I've felt all the things that it talks about." I don't know if they were fundamentalists, but that's how they're represented in The Conjuring.

There is a fascinating biopic to be made out of the lives of the Warrens but that would be overreaching for the film's director James Wan. Malaysian born but Australian-raised, he has failed to match his mega hit Saw, the start of a sadistic, repugnant series that led to the rise and fall of the torture porn sub-genre  He then retreated from the excessive gore and faux-moral ethics to Insidious: a lousy haunted house movie that wasn't scary in the slightest. So rarely does The Conjuring divert from Insidious in story and quality that it could be regarded as a remake. The film is set in 1971 and like Amityville Horror and Insidious it involves a couple (played by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their children moving into a two-story house by the lake, and are terrorized by strange noises, smells, creaking doors and more violent actions, like people being flung across the room. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga feature as Ed and Lorraine, and their investigation uncovers a history of witches, demon possession and human sacrifice that overshadows a numbingly repetitive main story of thumps, creaks and uncountable clichés.

One of the failures of the script by Chad and Carey Hayes and Wan's direction is that they have no sense of "the uncanny". In his essay "The Uncanny", Freud refers to the German word "unheimlich", which he says is the opposite of "heimlich" [homely], and therefore the contrary of what is familiar. Similarly, he argues the uncanny is a result of "intellectual uncertainty", meaning something uncanny can be one that a person is unfamiliar with and has not explored yet. There is nothing unfamiliar or uncanny in The Conjuring. By resembling other fictional horror movies, it diminishes the authenticity of the real case. The horror is merely a boring retread of genre conventions and it fails to subvert these tired staples.

The actors are confined to playing underwritten, stock characters in a two-story house, pitched on a grey block of land, with overgrown trees and too many banging doors. Wan loves Amityville but its outright plagiarism that the architecture of the house is identical. It also isn't scary in 2013 to have creaking doors and floorboards, and characters dumb enough to follow noises coming from dank basements and closets - it just shows a depressing lack of ingenuity. Long shots of eerie doorways telegraph potential big scares and are followed repeatedly by loud banging noises. If Wan had any subtlety as a filmmaker he would know horror is dependent on the imagination, not how loud you can make a film.

The Conjuring shares an uncomfortably firm relationship with archaic religious practices too. There are obvious iconographic references to films like The Exorcist and The Birds. However, the film's climax in a basement involving an exorcism isn't an extension of the horror but in the eyes of the film a probable means of healing. The self-belief in this brand of silly, fundamentalist exploitation is also compounded through laughable dialogue such as: "God brought us here for a reason", and "Religious icons piss them off". Yet if anyone takes this bunkum seriously they will be too young to remember the likes of The Exorcist and Amityville. Bloodless, tired and overly familiar, The Conjuring was a story not worth telling again but that could be the fault of its origins, and not just the derivative style chosen by its inexperienced director.


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