When jump scares go bad. The latest from director James Wan screams 'boo!' a few too many times.
Director James Wan is adept at remixing dog-tired haunted house clichés to make them appear as an endearing celebration of this much-pilfered sub-genre. Compared to the adventurous plot of 2010’s Insidious, a movie that began as very creepy and ended looking like it had taken a wrong turn into a Marilyn Manson music video, The Conjuring shows more of a slowburn restraint in the mould of Robert Wise’s classic 1963 film, The Haunting.
Supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) made their name during the Amityville case. The pair make a good double act: he’s a bit John Wayne-ish, real manly, does what a paranormal investigator/exorcist’s gotta do, and she’s all grace and kindness. There’s no suggestion that the Warrens are charlatans. An aura of respect glows above them.
Amid the clattering phantoms and general freakishness, The Conjuring possesses a dry sense of humour that, eventually, manages to amplify the horror. Wan’s film is all about having a good, old-fashioned time at the movies, where the audience can revel in the primal joy of being scared. The Conjuring, however, is a frustrating experience. It wears snazzy threads and struts about like it owns the place, but doesn’t earn the right to do so. Wan invests himself in the piling-up of expertly crafted chill sequences to the point that there’s little room for anything else.
Something is lost, though, when manifesting the evil demon and ghosts via computerised graphics, an issue that annulled the shock factor in the recent likes of The Awakening and The Woman In Black. As Wise’s lauded adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel highlights, subtlety and suggestion can go a long way. Ghosts are often photographed in incomplete, hazy form. People talk about their supernatural encounters as split-second glimpses or feelings. Cinema materialises apparitions in full, often with a shrieking musical score. It’s boring, James. Sort it out.
Before Amityville there was the Harrisville Horror!
James Wan is this generation’s William Castle.
Conjures up expertly timed scares and very little else.