Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In short: The Conjuring (2013)

It's 1971. Carolyn Perron (Lily Taylor, putting her considerable talent to dubious yet effective use), her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) and their truckload of children have put all their money - which isn't much - into buying a beautiful house out in the middle nowhere. Unfortunately, as soon as the family has moved into its new dream home, Weird Shit™ begins to happen. Frequent horror movie goers will at once identify their troubles as sure signs of Demonic Infestation™.

When weird turns dangerous, the Perrons ask demonologist couple Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) for help. The diagnosis isn't promising, because the family's troubles are the worst case of Evil™ the Warrens have encountered in their career until then and it'll take all of their resolve to get rid of the unwanted entities.

While I wasn't looking, James Wan turned into quite a horror director. Sure, he still wouldn't recognize subtlety it fell on his head, but he has obviously learned to use loud and garish, even more loud and garish, and incredibly loud and garish so well, his The Conjuring is something of a fun time, if a very empty one. In particular, Wan has now learned to use jump scares in a manner that doesn't induce eye-rolling and loud sighing from me, seeing as he mostly uses them as pay-offs for long and surprisingly effective suspense scenes.

One could argue that a really good director would probably just keep the suspense scenes and get rid of the jump scares completely but that would be too subtle for The Conjuring. For where Wan's efforts are hitting the mark, the script by Chad and Carey Hayes is the sort of concoction I expected (before I read other reviews online) even the mildest of viewers would have a hard time not to describe as outrageously stupid or just plain idiotic. There's really not a single thought to be found in the film beyond "demons bad", "family good", "Jesus awesome", "buy the books of Ed and Lorraine". For most of the time, the script tries to distract from that absence of anything, and from its manifold plotting troubles (just look how plain stupid the Warrens repeatedly act, despite having their own museum of haunted artefacts, and oh so much experience), by throwing one shouty, hopefully creepy set piece after the next at its audience. Thanks to Wan, this distraction manoeuvre is quite effective, though the film never reaches the point of transcendent stupidity, that is to say, the point where stupid turns into awe-inspiringly strange, nor the point where I stopped caring about the stupidity going on.

The Conjuring is always at its weakest when it feels the need to work as an advert for the real-life Warrens and their "demonology" bullshit, really not giving the on-screen couple any mentionable flaws beyond their stupidity, whose existence the film doesn't even seem to realize, and not putting a single thought into what it would actually mean to live in a world as haunted by the supernatural as it and the Warrens argue it is. But then, that would lead to a film that actually has something interesting to say, and we can't have that, now can we?

Still, as far as intellectually and emotionally empty experiences that try to distract from their failings by copious amounts of - real and metaphorical - shouting go, The Conjuring is pretty awesome.

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