Against my better judgement, I went to see The Conjuring. I had pre-decided it might not be such a good idea for me: I’ve seen Lorraine Warren on Paranormal State from time to time, and, as sweet as she is, she’s just a little too demony for me. With the Warrens, there’s little room for mischievous poltergeists or malevolent spirits: everything’s demonic and requires a religious cleansing, blessing, or a full-fledged exorcism. For this girl–who wants to believe in the paranormal but doesn’t (yet?)–this is a bit much. I’m more likely to believe in ghosts that demons, I guess, and in solutions to possession that don’t require holy water or a working knowledge of Latin.
But this is a movie about Ed and Lorraine Warren, and they believed in these things, so okay. I can respect that, as long as the story told ultimately gives me a good scare. And with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 86%, I figured something must be going on. But I am sorry to say that I didn’t find the movie all that frightening. All the ingredients for a good haunting were there: creepy toys, clocks that stop at ominous hours, sleepwalking children, children who talk to imaginary friends, children who get pulled out of beds and see things no one else does, doors that slowly creak open and then slam shut, various knockings and crashings and whispers, cellars full of other people’s old stuff.
And certainly the cast was none too shabby. Ed Warren is played by Patrick Wilson, the father from Insidious; poor guy is apparently now typecast as The Guy to Whom Scary Stuff Happens. Vera Farmiga takes on the role of Lorraine Warren. Farmiga is not typecast, but she has played in some horror films before, several that involve evil children (Orphan and the amazing Joshua), and her creepy factor is aided by proxy: her sister, Taissa, who is 21 years younger, was Violet in the first season of American Horror Story. The haunted family, the Perrons, are played by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston (whom you’ll remember as the hero from Office Space) and five young actresses of varying age, all of whom are strikingly beautiful and convincing in their roles, but it’s hard to keep their characters’ names straight–and in the end, it doesn’t really matter if you can.
But all of these things didn’t come together for me.
What I will say worked REALLY well were the p.o.v. shots from the victims of the activity. A long time ago, Carol Clover noted that slasher films often incorporate shots from the point of view of the killer, shots that invite us to objectify the soon-to-be victims as much as the killers do. But in this film, the p.o.v. shots allowed us to see as the haunted, and the effect was to feel more vulnerable, more on edge. Of course, the same technique is used in found footage films when we see though the camera lenses of those filming the paranormal events. However, the found footage approach has gotten a little stale, and I was glad to see director James Wan opting for a different approach. Fingers crossed that the 36-year-old Wan has saved up all his good stuff for Insidious 2 because I need that movie to frighten me as much as the first one.
I like scary movies too much to be completely disappointed when one doesn’t pull its weight, and this one certainly had some good moments. But I don’t at all understand the high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, especially when Insidious gets only a 66%.