Paranormal Detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) tackle another case of demonic possession. A young man is charged with murder but asserts that he was possessed by a demon at the time of the murder. Can our dynamic duo hunt down the occultist behind these supernatural hijinks before he is convicted of the murder? Will doing so actually save him from the gas chamber?
I’ve always had high hopes for the conjuring franchise as the saviour of mainstream horror. The 2000s ended with the dying breaths of Torture Porn and those dreadful slasher movie remakes. The 2010s trend of supernatural horror films was a breath of fresh are and as the huge yellow letters of its titles gradually crawl across the screen to the haunting drone of Joseph Bishara’s iconic score, I settled in to revisit a world of menacing atmosphere and creative scares! Unfortunately this latest instalment of the inconsistent franchise lacks the pure chills of its first instalment and the eccentricity of it’s wilder entries. No strange crooked men or haunted dolls or menacing nuns. The ghosts and the hauntings are all together less interesting.
The film threatens an interesting new premise in the form of a court case in which a man’s life depends upon the Warrens proving demonic possession. It’s an enticing concept, though not one you’d expect this franchise to handle honestly considering it’s affection for ghost hunting couple, but instead the film skirts around the real-life failure to prove the existence of the devil and instead sends them on an actual witch hunt which sees them in much more familiar and comfortable environments than the courtroom. The film rushes from these scary set-pieces with only passing concessions to character or any kind of unifying tension.
The creepiest aspect of The Conjuring actually has nothing to do with the ghosts; it’s the continued doe-eyed adoration of the Warrens and the vindication of their sometimes very controversial investigations. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are still charming, though unchallenged by anything too demanding this time, but it’s getting harder to suspend disbelief and take all of their assertions at face value. In a world where demonic possession and witchcraft accusations are still used to stigmatise people with impairments and women riling against patriarchal systems, it’s hard to fully support our heroes in their efforts to convince an American jury that demons exist. At one stage they even consult a renaissance witch-hunt journal for some helpful tips that were apparently gleamed from the old genocide.
Taking the Warren’s world view at face value also limits the scope of the film’s horror. Ghosts are always most interesting in horror films when they represent something more relatable. Ghosts could be the physical manifestation of a person’s grief, trauma, anxiety, emotional baggage or anything at all, really. Here ghosts just mean ghosts. They’re bound by a set of elaborate rules and laws that have been established over the franchise, robbing the film of any real sense of ambiguity or mystery which is where horror really lies.
Ultimately the film is playing it safe. Ghosts are real, evil is real, all of the worlds maladies are caused by a few bad people and some demons and the world can be put to rights with the right application of holy water. No young man ever picked up a knife without a demon in his soul and the church is still your best bet for understanding the world and the nature of evil. If this is the face of modern mainstream horror, it’s a shame it’s so toothless.