Films like Sinister and Insidious and The Conjuring - one of the stars of Insidious, Patrick Wilson is also in The Conjuring - characteristically lose their nerve about mid-way through. Then they turn into bad psychedelic trips, and by bad we mean the other ‘bad’, the creative ‘bad.’
The Exorcist was riveting, deeply scary and we had seen nothing like it before when we all went to see it at the Savoy in 1973. The Conjuring similarly nods in that po-faced way to the Catholic church, incorporates an exorcism as its climactic moment, and is too set in the early Seventies. Sadly, it is a misshapen, cynical pastiche of the much-superior William Friedkin film.
Directed by James Wan (the man responsible for The Saw and Insidious) The Conjuring is, in that great saving phrase, `based on true events.’ So then it must be good, yeah?
Following a plea from Mrs Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) agree to investigate the strange goings-on at the Perrons’ wooden farmhouse in leafy Rhode Island
First of all, the family dog died mysteriously during the Perrons' first night at the house. All the clocks stop every day at seven minutes past three, there is a strange smell of decaying flesh and the Perron daughters are having disturbing visions at night in their bedrooms.
Vera Farmiga has those read-your-soul piercing Barbara Stanwyck eyes, which are perfect for a visionary who senses things the rest of us don’t. So her Lorraine character is in her element in that eerie basement where a hell of a lot of scrapping with the powers of darkness takes place.
Although he fears for her welfare because of the steady chipping away at her sanity caused by demonic encounters, Lorraine’s husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) is persuaded to move on from one scary job to the next, fighting demons with grim Liam Neeson-style humourlessness. Lorraine tells him that God brought them together to do this kind of dirty work, so that makes it alright.
Despite the danger to themselves and to their only daughter – they are Catholics, who are generally not liked by demons – the Warrens are shock troops. They sort out cases of demonic possession before calling in the priest, if exorcism is required. That is when things go to plan, and they rarely do. Exorcism often goes horribly wrong, as Ed warns Carolyn's husband Roger Perron (Ron Livingston.) There is an added complication in that the Perrons are not religious and none of their five daughters are baptised.
Thus, stringing itself along on a decidedly thin story with little teasing speed bumps of pretend scariness, The Conjuring runs around like a mad thing. It grabs in desperation at all the reliable clichés: birds killed as they dash themselves against the walls of the house; wistful girl ghosts in long seventies nightwear, moping at upstairs windows; people falling downstairs into a creepy, cobwebby basement. There is a hanging in the garden (hey, we had that already in Sinister, c'mon) while satanism and human sacrifice committed by previous dwellers are also in the mix.
Plus a hell of a lot of sound effect as heavy thumping and loud bangs attempt to create the impact that is lacking in the actual dramatics of the piece. Never have there been heard or seen so many creaking doors, that old reliable. But all the noise only underlines the vacuum at the heart of it all, the absence of any kind of flow, rhythm, pace or coherence in this risible and, yes, very creaky film.