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The Conjuring (2013)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/22/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/21/2013

If you read my review for Insidious, then you know that I absolutely love that film. Over the past decade, vampires and zombies have dominated horror movies, leaving the ghost story/haunted house sub-genre neglected. Even with the dozens of direct-to-video horror movies released each month, good ghost films were few and far between. With their love-letter to Poltergeist, Director James Wan and Writer Leigh Whannell brought true passion and love for the medium back to the haunted house film, creating one of the creepiest movie-going experiences in years. When it was announced that Wan's next project would be another haunted house film, I was ready for a second dose of ground-breaking horror. Is there any way that The Conjuring can live up to that kind of pressure?

The Conjuring focuses on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who gained national attention in the late 70s when they looked into "The Amityville Horror". This story takes place in the early 70s. Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) have just moved into an old house in rural Rhode Island with their five daughters. After discovering a boarded-up cellar, they immediately begin to experience strange disturbances such as clocks stopping, loud noises, and pictures coming off of the walls. The girls then begin to see apparitions in the house. Carolyn approaches the Warrens and convinces them to come to the house. Upon entering the home, Lorraine sense evil and assures Ed that they need to help the Perrons. The Warrens, along with their assistant, Drew (Shannon Kook), set up an array of electronic equipment in the Perron's house in order to investigate the haunting. But, they will soon learn that they are dealing with an angry spirit who has haunted the land for years and has a sinister plan.

All of Wan's previous films have been set in the present and I think of him as being a very contemporary filmmaker. So, it's interesting to see him tackled a period piece in The Conjuring. But, it's not just the story which is set in the past. It's obvious that a conscious effort was made to give the film the look of a horror movie from the 70s. From the color palette to the camera movements, movies like The Exorcist and The Omen immediately come to mind. Just as Insidious was Wan's love-letter to Poltergeist, The Conjuring appears to be a homage to the influential horror movies from decades ago. The ghost-hunters and the equipment that they use is also reminiscent of Insidious.

But, this isn't Insidious. It's not even close. In short, The Conjuring simply isn't scary and it's barely creepy, making it a huge disappointment. The opening sequence, which focuses on a scary doll (which looks nothing like the doll from real life), borders on being creepy (who would keep a doll which looks like that?), but the movie goes downhill from there. The film strikes out for two reasons. First of all, Wan has decided to take a more subtle route here and makes The Conjuring a movie where many things go unseen. (As my wife put it, "If I wanted to not see ghosts, I would stay at home.) The cinema of suggestion can work well if done correctly, but let's face it, Wan has a history of showing things and this isn't his forte. The scene in which one of the sisters sees something behind the door which we can't is meant to be terrifying, but it simply comes off as frustrating. When the spirits are shown, they aren't very creative looking, with the main ghost reminding me of the hag from Drag Me to Hell.

Secondly, the ways in which the haunting is portrayed simply aren't original. Even if they are faithful to the Warren's original account of the incident, I couldn't help but feel that I'd seen it all before. The slamming doors, the falling pictures, people being moved about against their will -- The Conjuring simply offers a slicker looking version of what we can easily see on one of the many cable shows about hauntings. Insidious offered so many unique ways to scare us, but with The Conjuring, Wan either isn't showing it, or he's showing it in a way that we've seen before.

I can't begin to describe how let down I was by The Conjuring. Yes, I actually went to the theater to see it and left bewildered. This is a movie which was reportedly rated R for the simply fact that it was so scary and I got nary a goosebump. This is only the second film which Wan has made without Whannell (with the other being the little-seen Death Sentence), so maybe those two shouldn't be apart. Not only is this movie disappointing, but it's full of plot-holes. Why would the basement be hidden if that's where the furnace is? Why was the cop there? (No, seriously, explain to me why he was there. I've now seen the movie three times and don't know why he was involved.) Again, I love haunted house movies, so I'm glad that The Conjuring was a hit -- it will encourage Hollywood to make more ghost stories. But, I hope that the copy cats will take on a more original tone and actually try to be scary.

The Conjuring introduced a lot of people to "Hide and Go Clap" on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain (save for archive footage) and no defects from the source materials. Wan has given the movie a dark look and uses many Earth-tones. Still, the image is never overly dark and the few splashes of rich color look good. The image has a very nice depth to it, which works great in the establishing shots of the house. The level of detail is good -- this is evident from the opening shot of the doll. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track takes advantage of a great sound mix which works hard to isolate key sounds coming from throughout the house. The stereo and surround effects alert us to sounds originating from off-screen or behind the characters. During the "shock" sequences, thundering subwoofer effects join in, creating an audio atmosphere which gives the movie a much-needed boost.

The Conjuring Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Face-To-Face With Terror" (7 minutes) is an interview with the real Perron family who describe their experiences. This includes photos of the real house, which doesn't look like the house in the movie. There are also comments from Lorraine Warren here. "A Life in Demonology" (16 minutes) is a profile of Ed and Lorraine Warren. We learn their life story and hear comments from Lorraine. Wan chimes in with details on the Warren's style of investigation. We also hear from those who have worked with Ed and Lorraine. "Scaring the '@$*%' Out of You" (8 minutes) is a making-of featurette which looks at Wan's working style, including the camera-work and the way in which he approached the material. We also hear from the writers and some cast members, who comment on working with Wan.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long