Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Conjuring (2013)

Went to see The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013) with my friend Shannon last week. As we left the theatre, some dudebro ahead of us enthusiastically informed his buddy "dude, that was fucking sick." And I was like:

Dude, no. No, dude. No, dude, no.
This? This passes for "fucking sick" nowadays? The last half-century brought us The Exorcist, Cannibal Holocaust, the Blood Trilogy, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre -- and come 2013, The Conjuring qualifies as "fucking sick"? Stop this decade. I'm getting off. This isn't fucking sick. This is a big budget version of that episode of The Waltons with a poltergeist.

Shucks howdy.

The clean-scrubbed, all-American Perron clan, headed by mom Carloyn (Lili Taylor) and dad Roger (Ron Livingston) move into new digs in Rhode Island and are subjected to an immediate haunting. Dead animals, stopped clocks, pictures falling off the walls, the usual. The Perrons call in Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patricik Wilson and Vera Farmiga), purveyors of a family exorcism business. Ed and Lorraine take care of everything and everybody is just fine at the end, thank you very much, except for one golden retriever and a heap of unlucky pigeons.

There are two things wrong with The Conjuring. One is that this story has been told a bazillion times before, not often much worse and on more than one occasion, better. Moviemakers of the world: I'm tired of haunted dolls, spooked family pets, dark basements. The Conjuring may go down smoother (maybe because it had a half century to perfect its approach) but nothing happens in this movie that The Amityville Horror didn't do in 1977. Maybe because they're based on the same fucking true story.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying old horror movies are better by definition. I'm just saying that this is 2013 and it's time to leave grandpa's horror tropes in the attic.

The other is that The Conjuring is marketed as a horror movie, and yet it's not horrific, not really. OK, the Perrons have a supernatural pest-control problem, but they're such a sweet, loving family that we never doubt for a moment that they'll all come out OK. Ditto the Warrens. Leslie, Ed and their daughter are the picture-perfect suburban family, except mommy and daddy's day job involves demons and holy water.

What makes great horror boil and bubble are the mundane tensions bubbling under the mortals' interactions: the xenophobia of Dracula, the post-Pill anxiety of Rosemary's Baby, the secular VS spiritual angst of The Exorcist. Remove the human factor from the horror movie, and you're left with an funfair's haunted house: spooky, fun, instantly forgettable.

Also, no actual conjuring occurs in this movie. Not even once. Fuck everything. They didn't even get the fucking title right.


SCENE STEALERS: Shanley Caswell, Kyla Deaver, Mackenzie Foy, Joey King, and Hayley McFarland share this (made-up, inconsequential) honor. The girls playing the Perrons' daughters (bottom row; that's the real-life Perron brood up top) are a talented bunch. Even if I couldn't always tell them apart.

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