James Wan’s latest is good, but it’s not great, I’m sorry to say. In fact, I don’t think it’s as good as his last film, Insidious (2010) — or 2007’s Dead Silence — both of which had personalities all their own. The Conjuring, on the other hand, is a pretty generic — if well done — possession movie. All the hoo-ha over the film being just so darn scary that the MPAA slapped an R on it probably has less to do with the movie’s intensity (though it is pretty intense) than with the fact the plot revolves around mothers murdering their children. (Peter Medak’s The Changeling — in which a father drowned his handicapped son — got the same treatment from the MPAA in 1980.) In other words, there’s more fuss here than the movie quite warrants, but when you take into account the shoddy state of the horror genre, it’s understandable.
The film’s biggest problem — apart from its “true story” taradiddle and its insistence that “paranormal investigators” Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) were anything other than hucksters or (if you prefer) self-deluded religious loons — is that the script isn’t very good. Sometimes it’s not even coherent. Considering that twin-brother screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes also gave us the 2005 House of Wax and The Reaping (2007), that’s not entirely surprising. In fact, what is surprising is how good the film is despite its script, and how much Wan managed to leave his fingerprints all over it — in a positive way, like the “possessed” doll in the movie’s opening, which looks like a doll from Dead Silence. However, Wan can’t overcome the dialogue or the plotholes — of which there are plenty. Let’s just consider how a house with central steam heat can have its basement boarded over. No one ever had to deal with the boiler? The buyers never asked to check the heating? Seriously?
Flaws to one side, Wan has crafted a richly atmospheric movie with some beautifully handled scare scenes — such as one brilliantly achieved sequence involving a wardrobe that tops its first scare with an even stronger one. (I don’t want to describe it too much, but you’ll know it when you see it.) As a solid spook show, The Conjuring works, though the ending doesn’t strike me as big enough for the story leading up to it. But it doesn’t redefine the genre by any stretch of the imagination — and it certainly lacks the eccentricities that made Wan’s last two horror movies so memorable. Will it creep you out and make you jump? Very likely, yes. Will it spawn a sequel? That was already announced before the movie opened. (Unfortunately, it looks like the Hayes brothers are down to write this “Further Adventures of Ed and Lorraine” follow-up.) Will it stick with you? I’m skeptical, but if you like horror pictures, you should see for yourself. Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.
Playing at United Artists Beaucatcher