This weekend’s new horror release, The Conjuring, has sold itself on the ever popular “based on a true story” ordeal. A spike in dose for the chill factor, this branding looks to differentiate the James Wan film from others of kind by saying, “Here’s a movie you should really be scared of.” But true story or not, there’s very little that will set the film aside. Fortunately, The Conjuring does have a secret charm in its pocket, a unique turn of events that make for a highly inventive new element to the spooky genre. Less fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be interested in this as much as it is in run-of-the-mill jump scares.
The central story: a family moves into a new house in the country, faces the wrath of a restless spirit. The side story: exorcists Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are hired to rid the house of this evil. But branching off from Wilson and Farmiga’s contribution to The Conjuring is something that, while not given nearly enough time to shine or develop, could be its own horror movie altogether.
Wilson and Farmiga set up camp in the house along with their young, technologically savvy “intern” of sorts (Shannon Kook) and a local lawman (John Brotherton). While the Warrens (Wilson and Farmiga) represent long-suffering veterans in the haunting game, Kook’s Drew is a newbie with a fresh passion for the lifestyle. Only along for litigious reasons, Brotherton’s badge-flashing Brad is a good-natured skeptic whose job has him stationed amid a supernatural circumstance in which he hardly places any faith. Already, the politics of the “industry” are in play: Brad represents the almost comically mundane red tape that applies even to this strange underworld.
This element is expanded in the Catholic Church’s role in the story. The Warrens must seek approval from the Church in order to perform exorcisms, so Wilson is forced to meet with and pledge cases to priests in order to get the Vatican’s blessing. More politics, more bureaucracy, more dark comedy.
While Wilson is off having pitch meetings with men of the cloth and Kook and Brotherton bicker sardonically while stationed in a strange family’s home, we see the best moments of The Conjuring. If only a film might be made with the “exorcism industry” at the center, rather than taking a backseat to the far more uninteresting and done-to-death family in peril motif… but hey, if it ain’t broke…