I’m a big fan of myth. From Greek heroes to Spartan martyrs, Roland’s horn to Pan’s Flute, the Garden of Eden to Daniel in the Lions Den, Grimm’s Fairy Tales to the Bogeyman in the closet… I love them all.
Myth takes the stark reality of life and recasts it in a way that imbues the whole range of human experience, from mundane everyday activities to the extremes of extraordinary action, with a rich tableau of drama. The power of myth involves how it provides a context for what we don’t understand, whether that incomprehension involves questions concerning the universe’s ongoing expansion or merely what lurks in a dark basement.
I’m not being glib. Fear of the dark has been with us since we hid in caves, hearing noises in the night that very likely represented something interested in eating us for dinner. Such fear is, so to speak, hard-wired into our brains.
And it is that fear that director James Wan plays on in “The Conjuring,” a film that puts primal fears – of the dark, of the unknown – to good use for at least a half hour. Unfortunately, as happens in most Hollywood-made ghost projects, Wan’s film then devolves to the point where – with just a bit of judicious editing – it could play as the feature presentation for a Sunday School picnic.
“The Conjuring,” which is set in 1971, purports to tell the story of the Perron family – trucker father Ron, housewife mother Carolyn, and five of the cutest daughters that Casting Central can provide. Looking to get away from the urban shuffle, they find a run-down, creaky and drafty house in a remote part of Rhode Island that virtually screams demon. But, of course, the Perrons don’t see what we the audience does because, well, if they did, we would have no movie.
Anyway, pretty soon one of the younger tykes finds a mysterious music box, begins playing with her invisible friend, and soon everyone else is beginning to hear things, see things, and feel hands groping them in bed. When they find a doorway to a hidden basement, things get really interesting.
Cut to the Warrens, Ed and Lorraine – the real-life couple who founded the so-called New England Society for Psychic Research and who find time from their investigations of paranormal activity to give the Perrons a hand. And why not? This is the same couple who helped give the “Amityville Horror” story – one, I might add, that has been thoroughly vetted as a hoax – the publicity that led to several best-selling books and multiple lucrative movie adaptations.
So the Warrens enter the scene, and quicker than you can say William Peter Blatty, they find themselves in need of an exorcist. Which, wouldn’t you just know it, Ed Warren is qualified to do.
And so on. The disappointing aspect of “The Conjuring” doesn’t involve Wan’s direction, even if nothing he does is particularly original. No, it’s far more the movie’s insistence that what’s happening is real, that the Warrens have credibility and that the rest of us are gullible idiots.
Given that “The Conjuring” made nearly $42 million in its opening weekend, that last statement just might be true. And it leaves me, for one, truly lost in the dark.