The latest horror film to follow the grammatically questionable trend of having a title that follows “The” with a present participle is The Conjuring, directed by James Wan of Saw and Insidious fame. Or should that be The Sawing and The Insidiousing?
The story is the same as any haunted house movie – a family move into a creepy building and strange things start to happen. They enlist the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who were a real pair of paranormal investigators, to vanquish the demonic presence. If it sounds familiar that’s because it is; Wan uses every trick in the modern horror manual – there’s writing on the walls in crayon, creepy little girls wearing white and birds hitting windows. These tactics, while occasionally effective, can be seen in every recent genre film and The Conjuring brings nothing new to the table. There’s even a scary doll which begs two crucial questions: What relevance does it have to the plot and why would anyone choose to have it in their home?
It is perhaps better than many recent horror offerings though. There’s some great camerawork, such as one continuous shot through the house accompanied by The Zombies’ Time of the Season – a good way to start any film. The attention to detail is admirable too, giving The Conjuring an authentic 1970s gothic atmosphere. That it is made with some obvious care, has a story and isn’t found footage makes it superior to many of its contemporaries, which is a sad indictment of modern horror cinema. It still remains predictable and conventional throughout, with an ending that’s very loud and not very scary. Ultimately The Conjuring is just another The Exorcist wannabe, the likes of which we’ve seen repeatedly since 1973.
Just as predictable as the movie is the marketing. Sold to us as “based on a true story”, the demons and magic in the film seem to suggest otherwise. Here’s a question for testing the veracity of a film’s claims to true events: Does it have a ghost in it? THEN IT’S NOT BASED ON A TRUE STORY.
The marketing team were also sure to spread nonsense about the film being so scary that you’ll need a priest. Quite why a priest would help is unclear. But this is apparently necessary PR for every new horror film – they have to be sold as the scariest thing ever. It gets people to see these films and that’s what matters. But critically speaking it can only disappoint audiences, who are underwhelmed by what inevitably turn out to be average horror films. Instead of making our expectations completely unrealistic, they should be lowering them; market a horror film as “not actually that scary” and we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the regurgitated drivel we end up with. You’re welcome, Hollywood.