Film: The Conjuring

Had I watched The Conjuring (2013) upon its release, I never would have dreamed it would launch a sustained, successful horror franchise. But after surfing past this title a hundred times, I finally got curious, and was surprised to learn that this professional yet generic chiller has spawned seven sequels or related films. Evidently, the universe is inspired by the real-world exploits of church-affiliated demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), and The Conjuring purports to be one of their more shocking classified cases. It begins when the Perron family—mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor), father Roger (Ron Livingston), and their five daughters—move into a ramshackle Rhode Island farmhouse. It’s a fixer-upper riddled with conventional problems, but it’s all the Perrons can afford, which makes it all the more troubling when a series of inexplicable occurrences in the house begin terrifying the family. Convinced the reign of terror is supernatural, Carolyn reaches out to the Warrens for help, which leads to a concerted effort to investigate, prove, and exorcise the demons from the Perrons’ home.

The Conjuring is a reasonably capable horror flick, with well realized early-seventies setting and a decent slow-boil escalation of creepy elements. It’s headlined by capable performers I generally admire (Farmiga, Livingston, Taylor, and Wilson), even if their characters are rather no-frills. It feels like a film that might have been produced around when it takes place, an Amityville Horror-like throwback that almost screams for the grainy film stock of a late-night rerun. And yes, it engages the attention pretty well. But the trappings are deeply familiar, and there isn’t much nuance to its approach, particularly when it comes to the Warrens, who are portrayed as heroic crusaders of paranormal truth. It rings false that there isn’t more skepticism about them; the script plays their good intentions straight, not to mention Lorraine’s supposed clairvoyance. The obviousness of their alarmist bedside manner with the Perrons reads like charlatanism, but by making the Warrens protagonists, there’s an unrealistic lack of ambiguity to how they’re viewed. I suppose it’s in the interest of the production to proceed as if the horrors are real, but the film might have been more convincing as a fiction without playing up its supposed, and unconvincing, real-world origins. In the end, I’m not sure what itch this is scratching to warrant so much follow-up, but I suppose their are worse ways to pass the time.

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