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The Conjuring Review: Scary Dolls and Creepy Goings On at the Farmhouse
The Conjuring is based on a case from the files of real-life Paranormal Investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, one so horrific that they ‘kept it secret until now.’ I don’t know if that part is actually true or just part of the movie advertising.
We meet Ed and Lorraine as they are investigating the case of Annabelle, a creepy doll that’s supposedly haunted by a little girl’s spirit. The Warrens explain to the creeped out co-eds that kept the doll that the spirit inside Annabelle isn’t really a little girl, but an ‘inhuman entity,’ something that has never existed in a flesh and blood form, let alone a human one. This is a nice Lovecraftian touch, and there’s one other talked about in the film, involving Lorraine and an entity so terrible she can’t bear to think about what she saw long enough to describe it. This doesn’t make The Conjuring a Lovecraftian movie, but it does touch on his theme of Things from Outside.
The Warrens take Annabelle to their museum of haunted and occult objects, which includes the ultimate form of evil, a creepy wind-up monkey. The doll in the movie is substantially creepier than the real-life Annabelle doll, which is a Raggedy Anne. I guess they changed the doll because they wanted to get across a visual feeling of dread that a Raggedy Anne just doesn’t have. Or maybe Raggedy Anne’s IP owners didn’t want her turned into an object of terror. I’m not sure if they found the Annabelle doll in the film or had it made, but I’m hoping it was made. Something so creepy-looking shouldn’t be out there in the world on its own.
But Annabelle is just to get the audience warmed up to the Warrens and their ghost hunting. The real story is what happens to the Perrons. Carolyn and Roger Perron buy a big farmhouse in Rhode Island, hoping that it will be a happy home for them and their five girls. They’re soon proven wrong in creepy and downright scary ways.
It’s funny that the people in the horror movie generally seem to never have seen one ever in their life. The Perrons would definitely recognize some of the signs of a haunted house a lot earlier if they’d viewed even one horror film. They do the typical ignoring of the early warning signs that populate every haunting movie, for instance, their dog completely refuses to enter the house when they arrive, preferring to stay outside and bark almost continually at them. Their dark, creepy basement is filled with junk from the previous owners, and there’s a massive dead tree out behind their house with a long branch that practically screams “Hanging Tree!” Once the ghostly doings really start up though, the Perrons don’t try to ignore what’s going on, they try and find ways to fix it, which is where the Warrens come into their lives.
Likeable characters are one of the keys to making horror films like this work, and The Conjuring succeeds on that point. The Perron family is nice and normal, without even a hint of creepy secrets hiding in their past. Sure, little Cindy sometimes sleepwalks and bangs her head on stuff, but Carolyn and Roger love each other, and the girls get along well and are devoid of angst. The Warrens are a nice family as well, despite their room full of haunted and cursed items from their investigations that draws their daughter Judy to it like a moth to a flame. Annabelle, of course, is the main culprit for luring her into the haunted room. Damned creepy doll!
If you watch a lot of ghost or haunting movies, the ghostly action in The Conjuring will seem terribly familiar, as it borrows heavily from the movies before it. There’s the ball that rolled back from the darkened corner, the pounding, the footsteps and the odd smells. Some of these are arguably typical paranormal phenomena, but others, like the ghost dragging people down the stairs are pulled from other popular ghost movies. It makes sort of a good game, trying to figure out where you’ve seen a particular ghostly move before.
The Conjuring succeeds better when it puts its own stamp on the paranormal. There’s a game of Hide and Clap (hide and seek with a blindfold on the seeker) that takes a creepy turn, and while there’s a creepy wardrobe that’s sort of the old monster in the closet, it’s different enough that it works well. There are other examples but it’s better not to know what’s coming when watching a movie like this, so I’ll leave the scares unspoiled.
The other important part of any ghost film is the identification of the spirits and what they want in order to drive them out or lay them to rest. The Conjuring uses the Warrens for this purpose, mostly Lorraine, as she’s a medium. There are various spirits in the house, and this is where The Conjuring gets a little muddled for me, as it’s not clear which ghost is responsible for what part of the haunting and where the Inhuman Spirit that haunts the house fits in as well, or if that spirit was the same as one of the ghosts or what.
The end of the film works well, with the multiple storylines wrapping up in exciting and interesting ways that were original and compelling. The credits even feature pictures of the real Warren and Perron families, which was interesting to see.
I didn’t find The Conjuring to be a terrifying film, though there were excellent moments of high tension and some very creepy scenes. It’s worth a look if you’re into horror movies, but watch the dark alleys when you come out. You never know where Annabelle might be lurking . . .
You can find more information about The Warrens and their museum, (which you can tour) here.