With The Conjuring 2 out this weekend, we thought we’d finally catch up to the original movie. It proved hugely successful with the horror-movie crowd, and convinced a few people that haunted homes are real, and may be lurking in your neighborhood.

If you missed it the first time around, should you see it now? Or next October?

Directed by James Wan
Written by Chad and Carey Hayes, from the notes by Ed and Lorraine Williams

Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron
Ron Livingston as Roger Perron
Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Shanley Caswell as Andrea
Hayley McFarland as Nancy
Joey King as Christine
Mackenzie Foy as Cindy
Kyla Deaver as April
Shannon Kook as Drew Thomas
John Brotherton as Brad
Sterling Jerins as Judy Warren
Marion Guyot as Georgiana
Morganna May as Debbie
Amy Tipton as Camilla
Zach Pappas as Rick
Joseph Bishara as Bathsheba
Rose Bachtel as Leah
J. Donovan as David
Christof Veillon as Maurice
George T. Zervos as Catholic Priest
Nate Seman as Rory
Lorraine Warren as Old Woman in Audience

High Point

The film’s low-tech, suggested scares are probably the most effective, and the attempts to develop both the haunted family and the husband-and-wife ghostbusters means that we become invested in the story.

Low Point

Can we just drop this “based on a true story” crap? The Strangers spun a “true” story where someone knocked on a door and then left into a home invasion by psychos. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre took its loose inspiration from a Wisconsin loner with two confirmed kills, neither by chainsaw. But more often than not, these five words are an excuse for inferior writing. No explanation for why a ghost/demon does scary but pointless things? Hey, it’s a true story, so we don’t need it to make sense. Can’t make it scary enough? Tell people it really happened! That makes it scary!

No. It doesn’t. Make the story compelling enough and, be it completely fictional, we will start wondering if such things can be. “Based on a True Story” just has me reaching for my BS Detector—which went off more times during this film than a teen’s cellphone during algebra class.1

Never mind the film’s many acknowledged stylizations: placing events that occurred over years into a few weeks, and making the “Annabelle” doll a part of this case. Those, at least, serve the storytelling and series-building. The filmmakers’ insistence at every turn that the Warrens’ theological views and the film’s supernatural excesses represent verifiable reality feeds a superstitious gullibility that serves society poorly. In addition, by tying in this haunting to the Salem Witch Trials, the movie reaffirms the popular, but false, notion, that those accused and hanged in Salem were actual, devil-worshiping cultists, instead of innocent victims of religious and social hysteria (the film also maligns the historical Bathsheba Sherman. The few established facts contradict what we see in the movie).2

In the real world, families who move into haunted houses don’t need the Warrens. They need the Scoobies.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 The low score is less because it is based on the Warrens’ notes, than because it borrows so liberally from The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and every haunted house and demonic possession movie ever made.

Effects: 6/6 The Conjuring features some frightening visuals, mostly created using traditional physical effects.

Story: 4/6 The framing device, ostensibly there to introduce us to the Warrens, feels too much like the set-up for a series—- as, of course, it is. Indeed, this highly fictionalized version of the Warrens would be better suited for television. The main story, separate of the awkward, series-establishing rigmarole and Annabelle contrivances, works on its own terms.

Acting: 5/6 The acting is generally strong, and includes convincing performances by the children. Some scenes play unevenly, as when Roger responds to his wife’s demonic possession and murderous rage. Overall, however, the film assembles the right cast for this kind of movie.

Production: 6/6 The movie has a bigger budget than most horrors, and the filmmakers paid careful attention to historic and atmospheric elements.

Emotional Response: 4/6 The Conjuring is well-directed and features some good scares. In the end, however, it just isn’t that frightening. YMMV.

Overall: 4/6 The Conjuring is the contemporary equivalent of the films the kids and die-hard horror fans would have viewed at a drive-in once upon a time, and now watch on small screens and at sleepovers. If you don’t expect more than that, you likely will find it worthwhile.

In total, The Conjuring receives 30/42

Notes

1. The Exorcist, by comparison, let word-of-mouth, rather than official advertisement, take care of the “true story,” Blatty’s original inspiration, which bears absolutely no resemblance to what we see onscreen. The movie sold itself; people made of its implications what they would.

The sequel takes even greater liberties with the truth, inserting the Warrens into a case with which they had no real connection; a case which has since been debunked. Reportedly, however, the film itself acknowledges the skepticism surrounding the Enfield Poltergeist case.

Finally, this link is for people who expected a note about teen cellphone use.

2. It has also led to a still-unresolved lawsuit by the current occupants of the house, who lived there peacefully until this film was released. Now they’re haunted by creepy fans and wannabe Satanists. They also have refuted claims made regarding the house’s supposed haunted history prior to the Perron case.