Satan’s Music Box

The Conjuring: written by Chad and Carey Hayes; directed by James Wan; starring Vera Farmiga (Lorraine warren), Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren), Lili Taylor (Carolyn Perron), and Ron Livingston (Roger Perron) (2013): This haunted-house movie is based on a true story to only a slightly greater extent than Thor: The Dark World is based on my experiences at Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest in 1990. It kicks off what looks to be a whole series of movies about the adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-proclaimed ghost-hunters and demonologists who have been part of a number of what turned out to be America’s great ghost hoaxes, including The Amityville Horror.

James Wan directs with a certain amount of skill, though much of it has been borrowed from other movies, most notably Poltergeist and The Exorcist. And the narrative lifts so many specific points from The Amityville Horror (book and movie) that it sometimes seems like a remake. Family buys a new house which makes them house-poor, setting off financial difficulties? Check. Little girl has imaginary playmate that turns out to be a supernatural entity? Check. Family dog hates ghost house? Check. Events seem to repeatedly spike at a time just after 3 a.m. in the morning? Check. Secret room? Check. Entire house unnaturally cold? Check.

Unfortunately, there’s no invisible marching band, which I think is a goddamned shame.

The secret room caused the first moment of incredulous hilarity for me. See, the secret room they discover behind a false wall isn’t just a room — it’s the entire basement. WHERE THE FURNACE IS LOCATED! I mean, they were going to find it at some point, weren’t they? Either that or freeze.

Ghostly and/or demoniac shenanigans ensue. The ghost-hunters are brought in. At this point, the movie slides from simply annoying to offensive for two solid reasons, reasons made much more solid by The Conjuring‘s claims to be “true.”

For one, an exorcism occupies at the climax of the movie. And we’ve had too many real-life incidents involving people killed by enthusiastic exorcists revealed over the past few years for this sort of thing to be at all dramatically compelling. Nauseating and disturbing, yes.

Secondly, at least some of the supernatural happenings end up supporting the idea that the Salem Witch Trials executed actual Satan-worshipping, magic-using, evil witches. Give me a fucking break. Just because those women have been dead for several centuries doesn’t make their terrible fate any less horrifying. What a revolting development!

The actors do what they can with the material — the four main adult characters are decently acted. Another blow to my ability to even remotely suspend disbelief came when I realized that Patrick Wilson’s period hair and get-up (the movie is set in 1971) makes him look like Bob Odenkirk. So I thought, geez, what a great movie this would be with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross playing the paranormal investigators!

By the time we get to a scene in which Wilson must act as an “amateur” exorcist (the Roman Catholic “professional” being unavailable), we’re perilously close to the hilarious exorcism of Jonah Hill in This is the End. And let me tell you, this movie really could have used Jay Baruchel clutching a crucifix improvised from two spatulas and spouting the lines he remembered from The Exorcist. Not recommended.

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