In 2010, director James Wan and writer pal Leigh Whannell released Insidious, a supernatural horror film starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. It was an immediate hit, making nearly $100 million, on a $1.5 million budget. The film sort of re-energized the subgenre, bringing things back to basics for audiences and eventually leading to something much bigger. The success of that film would inspire Wan to develop another supernatural story, this time rooted in a little ‘reality’.
The film would be about Ed and Lorraine Warren, a real-life ghost-busting couple famous for investigating well known haunts, including the Amityville Horror house. While their work was extremely controversial and not without skepticism, there was no doubt their story as a whole would work on the big screen.
When The Conjuring first premiered in 2013, starring Wilson as Ed Warren and Vera Farmiga as his wife Lorraine, it was again a massive hit. But it didn’t just make a ton of money, it was genuinely terrifying — packing some great scares. Wan had proven once again that with a small budget, he could produce a well-crafted original horror film for broader audiences.
Since then, it’s had one sequel in 2016, with another installment due out next year (pushed back from 2020 due to COVID). But what has really brought in money for the franchise, has been its vast cinematic horror universe comprised of spin-off films — and even spin-off films from its spin-offs. Something I believe has made the series extremely convoluted.
In The Conjuring, we are introduced briefly to Annabelle, which was a doll from the real-life Warrens case files. It was a small cameo, tying in one of their more infamous cases, but the story would soon spawn a trio of films based on the doll; Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017) and last years Annabelle Comes Home (2019). Those films were fairly well received, and overall effective in the scares. But the studio wouldn’t stop there.
From The Conjuring 2, they then spun off 2018’s The Nun (2018), from another character that was featured. While the film did well financially, enough to warrant a currently in-development sequel, it tanked with audiences and critics for its poor narrative and lack of frights — and I very much agree. But again, it didn’t stop there.
At this point, the team behind the previous films, veered off course slightly, by releasing The Curse of La Llorona (2019). While it lives in the same universe as the others, it was not based on a character from the previous films, and instead on an old Hispanic American folklore. It was pretty abysmal (my full review here). Just pure uninspired, dare I say, garbage.
By now I’m starting to wonder if The Conjuring universe is sadly losing its steam, both creativity and directionally. Often times the films reuse the same scare-tactics that, while still able to build some tension, end up falling flat in the end. Even with the third Annabelle film, which was decent, it felt unnecessary. It had some nice scares, but it didn’t really add anything memorable to the franchise overall.
The universe is continuing to grow, with the aforementioned The Nun sequel in the works, as well as a film based on The Crooked Man from The Conjuring 2. Which I’ll admit I’m holding out hope for. I do think the studio needs to hire a really passionate filmmaker with a unique style, in order to give the franchise a fresh feel. The script also needs to be developed as the complete opposite of its predecessors; as they’ve all become far too formulaic.
There needs to be a shift in direction, a little more clarity in the narrative, and a stop to constantly planting cameos for new spin-off characters; as it only deduces the films down to a launch pad for another copy/paste flick.
What do you think? Are you getting burnt out from The Conjuring universe?
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