For those of you who attend movies only to feel the sharp stab of an emotional reaction, let me begin with this warning: the new horror film “The Conjuring” is only scary twice, with both of these instances coming close to half an hour into this two- hour film.
For those of you who think a little about movies, consider this: the director who made “Saw” and “Insidious,” Melbornian James Wan, has taken a little off his fastball in making “The Conjuring.” He seems to have had more budget than in the past, but the final product doesn’t have any characters for ticketholders to care about.
No care? No scare.
Supposedly based on a 1972 experience of a married pair of ghost busters, “The Conjuring” opens with Lorraine (Vera Farminga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren dealing with a demon which pretends to inhabit a grotesque doll. Once that haunted memento is tucked away in their warehouse of artifacts, they are off to lecture at a college in New England.
One of their audience members is Carolyn (Lili Taylor) who with her truck driver husband Roger (Ron Livingston) has just moved her family of five daughters into a haunted Rhode Island farmhouse. There their dog has been killed and their ankles have been pulled and such like.
Lorraine is the psychic of the team. She quickly recognizes that the family has a tiger by the tail. She and her more scientific husband (who is also a recognized exorcist candy-striper) drive out to the house. Lorraine senses evil. Instructed by the smallest of the daughters, she sees a dead boy in the mirror in the lid of a music box. The mirror has a “Saw”-like spiral painted on it.
She also “sees” a suicide hanging from a tree in the garden and she senses some other evil presences. Then off the Warrens go to the library to research the house. They find the spirits are all associated with the area. Apparently the central witch was one of those from Salem. Said witch is probably trying to possess the mother, and at one point she spews something into Ma’s mouth.
Explaining some of this—not very well—as they go, the Warrens then move in with their team, including a young tech guy to set up thermometer-triggered cameras and microphones in some places where evil has been sensed, as well as a non-believer cop who is around as muscle.
But the Warrens also make a couple of side trips. One is to their home, where their daughter exchanges with Lorraine a locket with her picture in it for one that contains pictures of her parents. This part of the story, which includes a threat to the daughter while the parents are out of the house, is so badly managed that I didn’t ever understand it.
Perhaps I’d quit trying to supply logical excuses where the movie had left things unsaid. Or perhaps they were said but covered by background music. Certainly the sound mixing was less than ideal.
Anyway, the Warrens also go to see a priest to ask him to put in a requisition for an exorcism. While they are waiting to hear back from him, events at the house cause the para-psychologists to move the family into a motel. But then Ma and one daughter rush back to the old homestead. And somehow a second daughter gets back there too, I wasn’t sure how.
The climax of the story is well-developed, but not all that new or interesting. And one of the film’s problems is that for one reason or another none of the family members or the Warrens ever become people we have a rooting interest in. Remember, that includes Livingston and little Joey “Ramona” King, who is playing one of the daughters. How does a film keep its audience from identifying with talents like them?
Part of the problem is the dowdy 70s clothes, I suspect. Part of it may be that Wan has wasted sympathy-building time on Wilson, who is difficult to like even if he replaces that carburetor on Dad’s ‘57 Chevy for free.
So here’s the summation for people who like the movies: when it comes to “The Conjuring,” ticket-buyer pass by.