Want to Play ‘Hide and Clap’?
The scariest thing about James Wan’s surprising hit ghost story The Conjuring surely must be what it tells us about the power of advertising. Indeed, given the success of this film it must be no less than terrifyingly demonic.
Yet that can’t possibly be the whole story, because word of mouth has been just extraordinary. In fact I was looking forward to it with enormous anticipation, expecting a genuine fright-filled ride on a rollercoaster. Man, was I about to be disappointed. Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad film. It’s not. Indeed, it’s as well-made as anything you’re likely to see in the genre. Coupled with a solid cast of decent actors I should be giving this a rave review. It’s just that I expected a hell of a lot more.
Maybe the people who are raving about how frightened out of their wits they were had never actually been to a horror film before. Because one thing is for certain: if you are a fan then absolutely nothing in this is going to come as a surprise to you. It’s so derivative that it’s nearly off the charts. You’ll see references to everything from Poltergeist to The Exorcist (of course) and in the case of some lifts from Robert Wise’s version of The Haunting you’d have to wonder when homage becomes outright theft. I finally gave up mentally listing every movie tapped into. In fact Wan even references his own much better (and underrated) earlier film Dead Silence with this movie’s demon doll. Although that’s probably unfair: the amount of films to deal with ventriloquist dummies are numerous. And stick one of those wooden yokes in front of me and I’m going to get creeped out every time.
The Conjuring is based on the true story—sure it is—of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who are called in to a secluded house that has just been bought by Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) who bring with them their family of five girls. A family of five girls when you’re still a relatively young couple? Jeez, there’s a horror film all on its own.
Things start to go bump in the night almost from the start. And let’s be honest, if you’ve watched even a few ghost stories then you know that if the pet dog is refusing to cross the threshold then it’s time to ask for that deposit back. And by the time that you find that there’s a boarded up opening to a creepy old cellar then it’s time to say to fuck with the deposit, I’m legging it out of here. But of course the families in these movies are made of sterner stuff than I am. So we start the predictable round of creaking doors opening and closing by themselves (no one ever oils a door in these films); kamikaze birds flying into the side of the house; clocks mysteriously stopping at the same time every night; children with invisible friends; thumps that come in threes and spooky music boxes.
You name it, Wan and his scriptwriters Chad and Carey Hayes throw it into the mix.
I really think that all concerned were probably quite taken aback at just how successful this film has become at the box office. And good luck to them. As I say, the cast is solid and James Wan has done other enjoyable horrors, including the original Saw, Insidious and the aforementioned Dead Silence. And the twin scriptwriters were responsible for one of my many guilty pleasures back in 2005 with the wonderfully sadistic remake of House of Wax. Yes, the one with Paris Hilton. There’s just no accounting for taste, is there? In terms of sheer unease and spookiness I can’t see how this touches The Others or last year’s ghostly tale The Woman in Black. Now that was creepy.
So best wishes to all concerned and I note that a sequel is already under way. I like to see these films make a few shekels because it means that I can look forward to more. I only hope that next time there are a few real scares of the ‘clap and hide’ variety, which was very effective here. I just get lost when the bodies start levitating, hanging from ceilings and dragged around by the hair. And the finale with the exorcism is almost as ludicrously over-the-top of as last year’s The Rite with Anthony Hopkins hamming it up like no one’s business.
Remember, I said almost.