There are a few recurring comments throughout a few of my reviews. Recently a prominent one was about the 80s, but one that has recurred a fair amount over the entire history of my website has been my takes on horror movies.
Since I started reviewing, my views on the genre have softened after seeing a few stellar examples of horror cinema in the years since I started. Prior to actually starting to review films and thus seeing many more of them, the horror movies I’d seen had been nothing more than a laughable carousel of cliché, as laden with predictable baggage as Heathrow’s own heaving carousels. The film I’m talking about today hasn’t gotten off the same plane as some of these films I’ve seen, but its bags have sure gotten mixed up with them.
Putting tortured analogies aside for the time being, The Conjuring is a fairly prolific new face of the genre, producing seven films in the last seven years, and while this is usually a sign that an opportunistic studio has seen dollar signs, it’s also fair to assume that the first one must be good, otherwise we wouldn’t now have the massive franchise.
Following the perspectives of two families, one of which has just moved into a new house (standard hackneyed horror plot #9742) and the other a fairly established pair of ‘demonologists’. The former experience supernatural occurrences and the latter are called in to investigate.
Putting to one side the highly original (he says, voice thick with sarcasm) plot for one moment, allow me to state for the record that your enjoyment and investment in this film will depend more or less entirely on if you believe in ghosts, demons, hauntings and all the rest of that horse-manure sold to very gullible people under emotional stress by opportunistic con-men who have as many supernatural abilities as your average can of beans. In case you can’t tell, I’m very much in the opposing camp.
This being the case, I found the film impossible to watch and enjoy, as it takes the story and the premise so deathly serious. It doesn’t stop for a moment to consider how illogical the whole business is; portraying Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) the demonologists as serious scientists, rather than jumped up fertiliser salespeople they were.
That for me was the worst part of the film, it shows them giving lectures, at colleges no less, to make us believe that all of their work isn’t a show of smoke and mirrors and the product of some very stressed people, desperate for help. Making it seem like what they did was legit, and really the product of something supernatural is incredibly insulting to the audience’s intelligence. We don’t mind believing in the unbelievable for our entertainment, this is suspension of disbelief and is vital to enjoying films & TV, but don’t try and tell us that all this is true, that’s it’s based on facts, because it’s insulting to your audience.
It would also help if the piece of entertainment was, y’know, entertaining in any way. Instead of the parade of cliché masquerading as a story we see before us.
I was prepared to look past the questionable ethics of the film presentation if it resulted in an impressive final product, but the final product we got was dull, tired, and predictable. If you’ve seen enough horror films, you’ll know enough to see all the scares coming a mile away, and what’s worse is how desperately boring it is.
Contrast this film with Halloween, two films ostensibly in the same genre but no-where near comparable in terms of quality, you can never say at any point in Halloween that nothing is happening. There’s always an intrigue, an atmosphere. In The Conjuring you could go off, make a cup of tea, maybe even a sandwich, come back and missed absolutely nothing of note. Nothing happens more or less at all for the first forty-five minutes of the film, insult us if you must to tell your story, but don’t bore us, that’s the worst thing you can do.
The film only really comes alive in its third act, and by then you’ve seen everything the movie has in its arsenal, there’s no sense of building an intrigue or an atmosphere, it just throws events at you and expects to be scared, it has all the grace and subtlety of a forklift truck that’s missing a tire.
What makes this all the more baffling is the talent it has at its disposal.
It’s directed by James Wan, whose past successes include the first Saw film, Insidious, and Aquaman, and it stars Patrick Wilson, who is an alarmingly consistent performer. Not to mention a supporting cast made up of lesser-known but no less talented actors, who are all given it everything they’ve got (besides the kids, but child actors are tricky enough even in good films) and you’ve got a mixture that should work, and does to a lot of people, apparently, but to me was about as appealing as a three-week-old banana.
Maybe it’s because I just don’t ‘get’ this type of film, or maybe I’m too much of a snob having being spoiled with classic horrors like The Shining or Halloween, but I struggle to see how this film spawned a franchise which is, and I can’t believe this is true, but it is, the second highest-grossing horror franchise ever. This film and its many, many inbred cousins have grossed nearly $2 billion at time of writing. All from this starting point; a Frankenstein’s monster of stitched-together tropes, stock characters, and insulting ethics. Some successes really make me question people’s judgement.