So, The Conjuring. Hmm. Where to begin? I guess I better begin with this: there are some spoilers below (for this and for Insidious) and there will likely be more in the comments, so head’s up if you care about stuff like that. Additionally, there is profanity AND a quiz, and this is going to be a long one, because — well, you’ll see. Brace yourselves.
I really wanted to like this film and went in with the best of expectations. I even waited a few weeks so I could increase my chances of an empty-ish theater (best way to go with scary movies), and I was rewarded by getting to see it in an utterly cavernous space with only two other people in there with me — talk about scare-conducive settings! Plus, not only did I love director James Wan’s previous film Insidious, but even the mass media critics, not known for their enthusiasm about horror movies, were mostly diggin’ this one. Add to that: Lili Taylor! I love her! Everything combined to make for some pretty strong excitement on my part.
And so it is with heavy heart that I report to you the major suckage of this movie.
When I first left the theater, disappointed to the max, I wondered if maybe Wan had been as clichéd, hammy, and tedious in Insidious and I had just been swept away by the right mood or Patrick Wilson’s swoopy hair or something. So, I immediately went out and rented it, watched it again, and nope — that movie still works for me. It doesn’t matter that it ultimately has a silly plot; the road from first scare to silly reveal is effectively creepy — for me.
So, what’s different? That’s actually kind of a funny question, because, first of all, The Conjuring is basically the same movie with different people, dumber people, and no humor whatsoever (oh, nerds from Insidious — you were sorely needed here). Both films are about young families with little kids who move into new houses and then end up both haunted and demonized. Heck, both films even start Patrick Wilson and his increasingly receding hairline (what the swoop is for, I determined this time around). I suppose I could have predicted this, based on the limited information I’d let myself see before going (trailer, the briefest of plot descriptions), but I had been hoping The Conjuring would be a straight-up haunting, and instead, it was boring, boring, boring ol’ demons again.
Ghosts and hauntings actually kind of spook me out; demons typically do not. Demons, to me, are dumb. I don’t believe in demons, not even a teeny tiny doubting bit, and so it’s kind of like trying to make me be scared of evil unicorns. There is patently no such thing as evil unicorns, so what is there to fear? (I mean, duh, unicorns are never EVIL.)
But hey, wait! Insidious was also about demons, and so were all the Paranormal Activities, and I liked all (most) of those, right? So, what gives, The Conjuring?
Well, first of all, the family in Insidious was a whole lot less dumb than the family in The Conjuring, and that goes a really long way with me when it comes to movies like this. To wit, a quiz:
1. It’s moving day! Everybody’s enjoying the new house except for, what’s this? Your dog is barking on the porch and refuses to cross the threshold? What should you do?
A. Chuckle at your silly dog and go back to unpacking.
B. MOVE OUT, because DOGS KNOW THEIR SHIT.
2. You’re exploring the house and you discover, how weird!, the previous residents appear to have walled off the creepy cellar! What should you do?
A. Pull down the wall and go downstairs to explore!
B. MOVE OUT, because PREVIOUS RESIDENTS KNOW THEIR SHIT. (Actual quote from the mom in The Conjuring: “I wonder why it was boarded up?” Actual quote from me in that moment, “I’LL GIVE YOU THREE GUESSES!”)
(Incidentally, I can’t resist mentioning here that the first thing they found when they went into that walled-off cellar was the furnace, which made me wonder where the hell they thought it was before they knew there was a cellar? Never mind that, though — I have bigger demon fish to fry.)
3. Have all your clocks suddenly started acting weird? I mean, ALL your clocks, TOTALLY WEIRD? If so, what should you do?
A. Nothing — you can just restart them all by hand every morning, tra la!
B. MOVE OUT, because CLOCKS KNOW THEIR SHIT (or . . . whatever!).
4. If a bunch of the doors and closets and such are opening up by themselves repeatedly:
A. Say to yourself, “Ha ha, this silly house! These doors are so silly!”
B. MOVE OUT, OH MY GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
5. Wait, even better: If the door to the creepy cellar creaks itself open right in front of you and you hear something clapping down there even though you know all your kids are upstairs asleep and NOT, in fact, playing “hide and clap” with you in the basement, do you:
A. Go down into the creepy cellar all by yourself without a flashlight or, seemingly, your brains? (Hey, thank god your husband so pointedly left those matches on the top step for no good reason earlier!)
B. Turn around immediately, walk out the front door, keep walking FOREVER.
Here’s a hint, intrepid quiz-takers: The answer to every one of these questions is B! If you answered A to any of the above questions, you should stop reading here. There’s no hope for you. You might as well just possess yourself right now and get it over with (what? I don’t know.).
Now granted, when it comes to moving out of a haunted/possessed house, those of us who have seen 80,000 movies just like this one know this almost never solves your problem. Persistent little bastards, those spooks. However, even more rarely does it make any sense at all not to at least try! That’s one of things I liked about Insidious, in fact — the family moves! The wife is like, “Dude, I am so out of here!” and the husband is all, “You got it, lady.” It doesn’t work, but at least it’s a normal human being sort of thing to do. The typical excuse for not moving in these kinds of movies is that the family sunk all their money into the new house and therefore can’t leave without losing everything. This is idiotic. What even modestly sane person is going to stay in a house that has doors that open by themselves and FRIGGIN’ GHOSTS playing “HIDE AND CLAP” in the BASEMENT?
Another annoyance for me was the excessive use of shrieking-strings “BOO!” music to make sure we’ve just noticed the terrifying thing we could not possibly have failed to notice because it’s on a screen that is 70 feet across and RIGHT IN FRONT OF US! This is one of my biggest pet peeves in horror movies — overdoing the shrieking-strings (I blame Psycho for this, incidentally). Wan does a little of this in Insidious too, but it’s not as noticeable there (at least for me, and I was watching/listening for it the second time around too). It’s unnecessary and it undermines my intelligence and keen observation skills (see above re: 70 foot screen). Trust your audience to notice when you zoom in on a little girl’s foot and something invisible gives it a tug. We’ll get it. We’re not morons (mostly).
Oh, and speaking of which, another quiz question:
If you were a child and something grabbed your foot in the middle of the night, would you:
A. Hang your head off the edge of your bed to see what’s under there, dangling your face an inch away from whatever that thing is going to end up being?
B. Do pretty much ANYTHING OTHER THAN THAT?
Oh my god, no kid would pick A! NO KID WOULD PICK A! The bravest and/or dumbest kid on the planet would NOT PICK A. That is just ridiculous. Stop being ridiculous!
I seem mad, right? It’s because I’m really disappointed. If Wan is going to make the same movie over and over now, only dumber every time, I have just lost all hope for the future (of Wan movies, anyway). After the crazy success of Paranormal Activity, not to mention Blair Witch Project, I was hoping horror movie makers would at long last catch on to the fact that it’s what we DON’T see that scares us the most. Just because you have super-duper CGI technology doesn’t mean you should use it! The invisible thing is the scariest of all the things. The minute you show me a dumb cartoon ghost is the minute you start to lose me. (Including in Insidious, by the way, but Wan waited a decently long time to reveal the (admittedly lame) fire-face demon in that one, and waiting a long time is a more effective way to do that. Just ask Jaws.)
Also, someone has to say it and it might as well be me: the end of this movie, in which the “issue” is finally “resolved,” was really goddamn dumb. Seriously? That’s all it takes? Really? Sheesh.
Look. I’m sure there are lots of you guys out there who saw this movie and enjoyed it and that’s totally cool and understandable and you are in excellent company! But I think anyone who is a big horror movie fan and has therefore seen rather a lot of movies just like this one isn’t going to find much here to cling to. There isn’t a single truly unique moment in the entire movie. It is every other movie just like it, and that’s all.
Genre: Horror, Ghosts, Demons
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Joey King, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Mackenzie Foy, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland