Unlike some other people, I have liked pretty much everything that I’ve seen from James Wan. Saw remains a great film, Dead Silence is a lot of fun, Death Sentence was decent and Insidious was one of the best mainstream horror movies that I’ve watched in recent years. Sadly, The Conjuring is his weakest outing yet. Many people will tell you different, many will fall over themselves to praise this film to the skies, but I left the cinema greatly disappointed. There were one or two good scare moments, but the rest of the film felt stale and far too reliant on jump scares to be a truly great horror, a criticism I am well aware that some will feel is just as easily levelled at Insidious even though I think that movie also had some great, brooding atmosphere throughout.
Starting off with a fun little prologue before going on to reveal those horrible words . . . . . “based on a true story” . . . . . The Conjuring follows a family, with Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as the mother and father to five girls, as they move into their new home. It’s not long until things start to go crash bang wallop in the night and they then call in a couple of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Of course, it can’t just be ghosts being dealt with nowadays. It has to be something demonic. And there has to be more motivation than just scaring the pants off of people. Which is why The Conjuring starts to get boring as soon as it thinks it’s making the whole premise more interesting.
The script, by Chad and Carey Hayes, is okay, at best. Actually, that’s being too kind. The script is pretty poor. There’s not much, if any, character development beyond anything required for certain plot points and most of the material setting up scares in the latter half of the movie feels like it has just been written in to set up scares in the latter half of the movie.
It doesn’t help that the acting sticks at a decidedly average level. Wilson and Farmiga are pretty charm-free in their roles, Taylor does better but is wasted in the third act and Ron Livingston wanders around while people (okay, maybe just me) wonder about the last time they saw him outside Office Space. It’s not that he hasn’t done anything since then, he’s done plenty. It’s just that I ALWAYS start thinking that way when I see him.
Wan directs capably enough, and the sound design and musical score is pretty superb, but he’s also guilty of revisiting all of the tricks that he used up in previous films. That wouldn’t be so bad if they were executed as perfectly as they sometimes were in his other works, but they’re not. One great moment – involving some laundry – doesn’t make up for the rest of the lacklustre content. Oh, there’s one other really good scare, but it’s one from the trailer so either avoid the trailer or prepare to spot that moment and realise that it’s the high point of the film.
I’m sure that this will do some great business, and will keep director Wan as a reliable horror guy, but I really wanted something more than the same old twists and tricks that we’ve been seeing over the past few years. The film isn’t BAD, but it’s not great either. And I was really rooting for it to be great.
DIRECTOR: JAMES WAN
WRITER: CHAD HAYES, CAREY HAYES
STARS: PATRICK WILSON, VERA FARMIGA, LILI TAYLOR, RON LIVINGSTON, JOEY KING, MACKENZIE FOY, STERLING JERINS
RUNTIME: 111 MINS APPROX