The Conjuring - DVD Review

'exorcisms, witchcraft, spooky child ghosts, birds behaving in a suspiciously Hitchcockian way, and even a seriously sinister-looking possessed doll'

To give it its due, The Conjuring refuses from the outset to pigeonhole itself into one specific area of Horror, with director James Wan instead throwing pretty much everything except a haunted kitchen sink at you. So we not only get a mysterious house replete with a creepy history and resident things that go bump in the night, but we also get exorcisms, witchcraft, spooky child ghosts, birds behaving in a suspiciously Hitchcockian way, and even a seriously sinister-looking possessed doll. Wan also doesn’t waste time with easing you in, delving straight into the story of the aforementioned terrifying toy within the first couple of minutes.

To be frank, Wan almost gets away with it; there are many times when The Conjuring is a satisfyingly effective and well-made addition to the horror genre. There’s a stretch of about twenty five minutes during the film’s closing act where I was not only genuinely gripped by proceedings, but was also pleasingly aware that what I was watching was ambitiously structured and skilfully executed. If only Wan had managed to maintain this level of success throughout the whole of his film then there’s no doubt you’d see (at least) one more star added to the score at the end of this review.

Perhaps inevitably considering how many balls Wan tries to keep in the air, at least a couple fall to the ground before the end and are never picked up again. The possessed doll, “Annabelle”, is a prime example. After a strong opening sequence which feels like an entire horror film reduced into just a few minutes, Annabelle is effectively sidelined for much of the next hour, before Wan reintroduces the creepy plaything once again to superb effect. But, by this point in the film, there’s so much else going on that the demonic dolly’s story is suddenly dropped once again, leaving that particular thread dissatisfyingly unresolved. It may be Wan eyeing sequel potential (rumours of Annabelle being the focus of either a follow-up or spin-off to The Conjuring), but here it’s a prime example of the director trying to cram more than he can manage into one film.

The same can be said for the parallel plots found in The Conjuring. Wan begins his film focusing on real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and their careers, before moving to the story of the Perron family - father Roger (Ron Livingston), mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters - as they move into their new home.

Wan does manage to juggle these two threads well before inevitably bringing them together, but again there’s just too much material for the director to make everything work as well as it could. With the Warrens, Wan feels as though he falls back too often on Wilson and Farmiga’s strong performances and chemistry, devoting too little time to developing the pair. The relationship between Ed and Lorraine and their daughter, for example, is disappointingly sketchy, leaving it solely to the skill of the two actors to make things work when it is eventually called upon as a plot device. The Perrons suffer from almost the opposite problem: plenty of screen time devoted to their story, but there are just too many characters to feel properly fleshed out. The five daughters in particular essentially end up feeling like carbon copies of the same one-dimensional character at different ages.

I feel I’ve possibly criticised The Conjuring more than I intended to, which is a shame because it’s regularly enjoyable and, perhaps most important for a Horror film, genuinely creepy. There’s a notable mid-film dip where not much happens and Wan ill-advisedly opts to try and introduce some entirely out-of-place light humour through two characters barely seen before this point, and the ending also feels a little too conventional when compared to much of what has preceded it. But, for the majority of its running time, what The Conjuring has to offer will both engage and entertain, and even achieve excellence at a few points.

The Conjuring is out now in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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