The horror genre is possibly the most difficult in film to get right. A lot of horror films can be terrible lifeless things, full to the brim with the same generic scares as previous films. The great horror films, and these are a small minority, redefine the genre: using elements that may have appeared elsewhere but making them their own. Such is audiences’ longing for a great one, every so often you get a lot of hype surrounding a new horror film. This film seems to promise a return to horror greatness: there are the TV spots where people appear and tell you how scared they were (always a bad sign); they also seem to come complete with amazing reviews. Last year it was the Evil Dead remake that turned heads. This year it is the turn of The Conjuring . For me, and for I suspect most audiences now, low expectations are the key and anything resembling actual scares is a bonus.”
The Conjuring stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens who are investigators of the paranormal. Introduced in a creepy prologue about a doll, they come across as caring professionals who like to help people. But the investigations are taking their toll on Lorraine Warren who is struggling. One day they are approached by Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston), a couple with five daughters who think they have evil spirits in their new home. They visit the home and start to investigate.
The first thing to say is that we have seen all this before. The haunted house scenario has been played out many times. The question is whether director James Wan can bring something fresh with his take. The answer, sadly, is no. There are moments particularly in the early part of the film when it is quite jumpy. But like most modern horror films you get used to the beats of the scares quite quickly. After some time the music cues and overly familiar scenarios lead to anticipation of the scares and thus lose their power. This is a shame as in the early part of the film there is a sense that Wan is taking this seriously and is looking to make something special. Alas, he seems to run out of ideas and momentum and the final act has a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ feel to it. Indeed at a certain point you can start to mentally tick off horror films it pays homage to. I won’t name them here as audiences may prefer to play spot the references at the cinema.
The cast is one that is very good for this kind of film. It is the two actresses however, who both steal their partners’ thunder in very different ways. Taylor is great as the mother in the house, she has a very physical and emotional role, full of turmoil and she is excellent. Farmiga, by contrast, is all quiet reserve and pain behind the eyes. After her superb performance in Up in the Air I was hoping to see much more of her, so I was glad to see her here. Wilson and Livingston are fine with roles that are a bit of an afterthought. The five daughters seem to meld into one character with nothing to distinguish any of them. The camerawork is excellent throughout with some nice off kilter movements and some creepy camera angles.
The Conjuring is just about good enough to catch in the cinema. There are scares to be had and if you let it wash over you I imagine it could be quite effective. But it is not a particularly memorable film and the last act jumps the shark in spectacular fashion. If you like Wan’s previous work (Insidious, Saw) you will probably enjoy this. But for me I have forgotten most of it already. The wait for the next great horror film goes on.