Ed and Lorraine Sullivan are a ghost-busting couple who are professionally called ‘demonologists’. Their job description: to visit supposedly haunted properties either to a) detect any troublesome supernatural presence and get rid of it or b) debunk the rumors using rational explanations. They record their findings on tapes and video cameras to i) send it to the Vatican as evidence of demonic activity to get sanctioned for conducting exorcisms, and ii) to use it during presentations when they’re conducting seminars all over town. And you thought they were making home videos, did you? Those would be some nasty memories to keep! Lorraine is a clairvoyant, so she can see things other can’t and visit people’s memories and get a feel of their past experiences. It’s a gift in case of happy memories, but looking at the nature of her profession, it doesn’t seem like she gets many happy things to see.
When the Warrens visit the Perron family, who invite them after being traumatized by a demonic entity in their newly purchased farmhouse, it doesn’t take time before Lorraine senses that things are going to get messy. Seriously messy. This time, the spirit isn’t camera shy to lurk in the shadows until the very end of the film. It gives Lorraine an eerie welcome, hovering behind Roger Perron, the head of the family, when he opens the main door. The spirit then floats near Roger’s children as he and his wife Carolyn introduce their five (yes, five. This actually happened in 1971, according to the Sullivans) girls to Ed and Lorraine. A few moments later, bammm, Lorraine sees a woman hanging from the tree (i.e. the spirit; yes, it’s a woman again that haunts) close to the lake nearby. “The spirit has latched on to your family. So it’ll follow you wherever you go” she then explains to Roger and Carolyn, thus putting an end to our common doubt: ‘Why don’t the guys just leave?’. An exorcism needs to be conducted, but the Vatican needs proof before sanctioning an approval. Our demonologists, like the 70s version of Ghosthunters, then begin installing cameras and mics all over the house, recruiting two other guys, Drew and Brad, for this twisted venture. They also have ‘UV lights’ that track foot-marks etc; I remember this object so well because Brad tells Drew during the film ‘I need the UV LIGHTS’ with such great emphasis on ‘UV Lights’ I thought it for a moment it was product placement.
Day one, or rather Night one remains relatively ‘unghostly’ except for a highly intractable door that’ll shut on people’s faces without warning. Its night two when things begin to shake up. We’ve already had a teaser even before Sullivans’ entry; one girl is yanked by her legs every night, another sleepwalks to a closet every time while the littlest one (like all littlest ones in horror movies do) keeps talking to an imaginary friend who later turns out to be ‘one of them little ghosts’. Now the evil spirit is incensed all the more because of the Christian crosses Ed has placed in all the rooms. She does everything in her powers to destroy the Perrons, and unlike some other spirits who circumscribe themselves to two-to-four tried-and-tested torture tactics, she has free rein here. She possesses the sleepwalking girl and takes her up to a secret area within the closet, she sends another one flying across the room, she drags the third by her hair, she flings objects at everybody etc. Other spirits make guest appearances too: the little ghost Rory, the knife-yielding maid and… yeah, I think that’s it. When the evil spirit (a witch when she lived) possesses Carolyn, all hell breaks loose, with louder screaming, birds crashing, stuff flinging, cupboards crashing, Carolyn bleeding, Ed chanting, girls wailing… , and exhaustion sets in. Free rein to ghosts ain’t really a good thing, is it?
The weakness of ‘putting everything in to impress’ hovers over James Wan’s The Conjuring throughout, until it becomes an exercise to watch the film. Even when the spirit is introduced, James tries to put in as many ‘Spirit Alert!’ signs as possible. Repeating a few scare tactics but making them all the more frightening each time they appeared would’ve done the trick, for example, it was unnerving to know what was in store for the girl who had her leg yanked every-time. But Wan does a lot many other things too, which quickly turn laborious. ‘Not scared of leg yanking? How about clocks stopping? Or birds dying? Or things breaking?’ is Wan’s attitude here, and it doesn’t work.
The characters in the film are too many. Ed and Lorraine were required obviously, and so were the Perron couple. But five girls plus Drew and Brad? And so many ghosts? We don’t know the girls to well nor the ghosts. And the film has a climax that wants us to be emotionally connected with Carolyn and the girls. Are we emotionally connected? Not really. More importantly, is Conjuring scary? Nope! My clairvoyance tells me I’ve seen far better horror films: Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby, Drag Me To Hell, to name a few. I went to Conjuring wondering what nightmares shall haunt me, but I guess it’s a good night’s sleep for me.