It is a bit of unfortunate irony that the film genre most reliant on shocks is wont to spit out the least surprising entries on the market. While a good horror movie is an unappreciated gem, most of them wind up conflated with its interchangeable brethren, difficult to distinguish in any way other than its headlining cast (and even there you’re bound to see a ton of overlap). Most horror movies don’t have a lot to show in the face of originality, which is why it is such a disappointment when one with actually venerable material shifts it to the sidelines in favor of the same old song and dance. The Conjuring, a culprit of this crime, doesn’t know what kind of majesty it has in its team of exorcists: a spiritually-inclined, ghost-busting expert Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his even more adept, albeit frequently ghoul-afflicted, wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), their eager lackey Drew (Shannon Kook), and a skeptical lawman who saddles up for the expedition at hand — the abolition of the evil inside the Perron household. But the real nightmarish infestation here: the Perrons.
While most of the scenes devoted to the crack team of demon hunters are scary, emotional, fun, or just plain interesting (a high point in the movie comes in the form of a somber, macabre montage that oversees the foursome upholding their routine of keeping peace in the haunted home), the film lends a good deal of its attention to the frightened civilians, Roger (Ron Livingson) and Cynthia (Lili Taylor) and their endless supply of daughters.
In the Perrons, we do get some charm, primarily from the talented young players — if we haven’t already learned that Joey King is headed for greatness, the bright light she shines through the less interesting factions of The Conjuring will solidify this notion. But aside from some naturalistic family undercurrents, most of the Perrons’ time onscreen is ensconced in worrisome gasps.
It’s nothing you can’t find in any other horror movie on the shelves… I mean, Netflix sub-menus. Meanwhile, the far more intriguing dynamic of the professional team brought in to absolve the family of their nightmares is swept under the rug.
But this might not be a problem for all. There’s a reason that the horror genre feels like an assembly line of identical cogs: it works. People want a certain thing out of their scare flick, and that certain thing is delivered in all of the big box office winners and cult frenzies. As such, to all those seeking little more than a few jump scares and some haunting imagery, The Conjuring should satisfy. After all, nothing tops a freaky doll in the chills department. But if you’re the sort of horror-goer who looks for something new — the sort who has seen the “based on a true story” advertisements and inventive marketing and thought, “Now this one looks different!” — you might in fact be in for a surprise. The not-so-great kind.