In 1968, demonologist couple Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren were investigating a haunting concerning two nurses and the doll they had invited a spirit into. The Warrens were keen to stress that most tales of haunting were merely cases of mistakes and natural circumstances falsely leading people to believe something supernatural was involved, but in this case there seemed to be something in it. The nurses had reported the doll apparently causing a room in their shared apartment to be vandalised, whereupon they threw it out, only to be awoken that night by a tremendous banging on the front door. The doll was the source and the Warrens took it away...
But there was a lot of tremendous banging in this film, one of the loudest horror films of its era which just happened to be one of the most lucrative to boot. The genre had gone through a phase which saw it try to become as extreme as possible, with gore and torture emerging as the methods moviemakers tried to scare the punters, resulting in horror becoming a pariah once again in the field of entertainment. But then a new breed of fans started making the sort of chiller they had grown up watching on television or renting on home video where the object was not to disgust but to genuinely frighten, and so at the turn of the millennium a brace of supernatural themed efforts appeared.
Works like The Blair Witch Project showed you didn't need a huge budget to be a success, and The Sixth Sense and The Others proved a spooky atmosphere was enough to get audiences talking - and paying up for more of the same. Therefore by the time The Conjuring was released directors such as James Wan were raiding those genre classics, or if not classics at least strong memories of hits, to construct the modern day equivalent; couple that to one of those periodic upswings in interest in the paranormal and this entry was perhaps the most typical of the lot. The script by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes reproduced a supposed true life haunting, and that important word "true" was all that was necessary to freak out the fascinated viewers.
If what we were watching was a recreation of real events - Lorraine was happy to tell all who asked that this was pretty much how the actual haunting occurred in spirit if not to the letter - then that made it all the scarier, right? The most obvious cue Wan and company were taking was from one of the biggest horror successes of the seventies, The Amityville Horror which not coincidentally was the other famous case the Warrens had investigated in that decade, and their financial nous proved very savvy indeed when ticket sales went through the roof and cinemagoers were reported to be leaping out of their seats and screaming in terror, music to the production's ears. Except how far were they really believing what they were seeing, or how far were they implementing a suspension of disbelief, for much of what happened in The Conjuring was difficult to take seriously?
You could say only the investigators and the afflicted Perron family in their isolated farmhouse truly knew what happened, but surely it wasn't this bunch of strung together, hoary old clichés? If accurate, the ghosts had been watching a load of vintage horror movies, although one imagines they would be contemporary back then, because there wasn't so much a plot here as a series of shock setpieces with very little emotional depth; it was like one of those TV reconstructions with the amplification turned way up. There was a theme running through this emphasising the importance of family, and how that precious family unit was under threat by the forces of darkness only a devout Christian faith could counteract, fair enough that had been the subject of many a well-regarded chiller long before this came along, yet there was something far too reactionary in all this which left you feeling as if you had just attended a fire and brimstone church sermon rather than the entertaining subversion horror could carry off so well. Leave it to the fundamentalists. Music by Joseph Bishara.