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The Conjuring

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As part of my birthday shenanigans, we visited the newly remodeled Sundance Cinema in the U-district. (It used to be the Metro) It is now 21-and-over, and you can get a cheese plate and beer and drink in the theater. Also, reserved seats, and really nice big seats with lots of elbow room between them.

Two thumbs up for the theater, although I imagine it will be a disappointment to 18-20 year old UW students.

We saw The Conjuring. I wanted to love it, I really did. I was promised good, old-fashioned haunted house scares, plus Lili Taylor, in a horror movie with nearly universally good reviews. The early scenes, which featured the creepiest of all creepy dolls (who always follows you…), an engaging early-seventies style, and a likable and natural-feeling family moving into the eerie house (the dog won’t come inside!) kept my expectations high. Then…

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(spoilers follow)

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The dog is found dead the very next day, and it doesn’t have much emotional impact, or any discernible effect on the plot. What killed the dog? The family doesn’t even discuss it. We get one of the five adorable daughters screaming when she finds him dead, but we don’t see the other daughters mourning. So that’s a narrative gun that was fired too soon, and the bullet was a dud.

The development of creepiness proceeds pretty well for a while, and it does have some memorable scare moments. These include one really terrifying scene involving two of the girls and a presence in their room that only one of them can see. This is the peak moment of the movie as a haunted house movie.

Then it turns into a demon-hunting, possession-and-exorcism movie, as Lili Taylor’s character (the mom of the family) seeks help from a couple of paranormal investigators. The movie is framed as the investigators’ story (based on a true story and all that) and apparently one of the real-life investigators was a consultant on the movie. I think that may have been a huge mistake, as a story that should be Lili Taylor’s keeps trying to be about the investigators instead.

Furthermore, the only thing that really makes the investigators interesting — the fact that they might be partly or completely full of baloney — is never allowed any play in the story. They are ✩♥HEROES♥✩ who say ridiculous things to each other like, “God brought us together for a reason.” They say that TWICE. They also have a lot of dialog of the “I can’t let you risk your life!” “No, I have to do this!” “No, I can’t let you!” “No, I have to do it, don’t you understand?” variety.

So the dialog becomes increasingly silly, and it becomes increasingly problematic that none of the five adorable daughters is given much of a distinct personality. (Right at the beginning, the oldest one is briefly sullen about being dragged to the middle of nowhere, but it never comes up again.)

As the paranormal activity gets more extreme, the movie mixes really great spooky touches (more and more birds flying against the house and breaking their necks) with really oh-come-on touches (one of the girls is dragged around by her hair — which the female investigator puts a stop to by cutting the hair. I mean, huh? Why can’t a spirit that is capable of grabbing your hair and dragging you around by it just grab you again by your now-shorter hair?)

Anyway, by the end of the movie, I was no longer scared. Instead I was getting impatient, maybe a little bored. I didn’t have much investment in any of the characters, and the story didn’t seem to be about anything.

 

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