How many horror films have you seen the last couple of years about a family pestered by some obnoxious spirit? I have watched nine: Insidious, Dark Skies, Mama, Sinister, The Possession, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Paranormal Activity 3 and 4, and now The Conjuring.
The formula is always the same, with small variations: Nuclear family with cute kids moves to a new house inhabited by some creepy ghost, endures increasingly violent episodes, calls an expert, normality returns. One of the children and the exorcist may be lost in the process.
Director James Wan, responsible for one of the few decent titles of the group (Insidious), goes back to the well, but this time focuses on the specialists more than the victims. In the case of The Conjuring, we are talking about Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), psychic investigators. The Warrens’ approach to paranormal events is almost clinical, and often they dismiss cases based on tangible information.
They can’t do that with the Perrons, a lower middle class family holed in a creaky, decaying house in the middle of nowhere (as seen in The Amityville Horror). The spirit making their lives impossible is a long-time dead witch, obsessed with driving away people living in her land. Her modus operandi includes taking possession of a member of the clan and use the body to dispatch the rest (again, Amityville).
The film -allegedly based on real life events- is set in the seventies, which solves many of the problems technology presents (how many times a character can claim not getting a signal?) The Conjuring also benefits of a superb cast (Wilson, Farmiga and the perennially underused Ron Livingston and Lily Taylor) and James Wan’s capacity to create oppressive atmospheres.
Alas, the feeling of “being there, done that” never goes away. Sure, you get to jump from your sit a couple of times, but The Conjuring doesn’t have the staying power of the classics of the genre.
Three skittish prairie dogs.