Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2013. New Line Cinema, The Safran Company, Evergreen Media Group. Screenplay by Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes. Cinematography by John R. Leonetti. Produced by Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran. Music by Joseph Bishara. Production Design by Julie Berghoff. Costume Design by Kristin M. Burke. Film Editing by Kirk M. Morri.
The hope is for a thriller as juicy as Insidious combined with the classic dread and suspense of The Exorcist, but really it’s just slightly above the campy idiocy of The Amityville Horror. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor and their five daughters, a nobly struggling middle-class family with oodles of charm, move into a giant home in the middle of nowhere, unaware of its past and unconvinced when things immediately start going wrong. Taylor keeps waking up with bruises all over her body, the girls complain of nuisances bothering them in the middle of the night, doors slam, pictures fall off walls and, soon, scary old witch faces begin appearing. Meanwhile, paranormal ghost hunters Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are elsewhere doing the good work of ridding the world of demons despite the terrible experiences they have had taking part in exorcisms. They hear of this family’s plight and, once they decide that it is not a joke, immediately set up shop and look to rid their home of its pernicious invaders. What should be a really great ride, particularly given the calibre of actors involved (and none of them disappoint), is completely undone by a stupidly sincere director who takes these characters and their religious conviction far too seriously: William Friedkin at least kept a somewhat detached and skeptical eye turned on his ‘rebellious’ single mother heroine and her innocuous teenaged daughter, as if suggesting that they brought this trouble on themselves not because they were bad but because they were rather carelessly comfortable in the world they thought they had control over. Friedkin also made a movie where a villain was eventually faced head on. These people are all far too gullible, and the few attempts to welcome a sense of skepticism (we see the demon hunters rule out one case of a haunted house because of rusty pipes, not ghosts) does not make up for the shrill levels of vapid religious conviction (the family doesn’t go to church, and we’re invited to point fingers) and what amounts to a two-hour collection of creaking doors. Basically it’s a less boring episode of Paranormal Activity that has the audacity to try and convince us that it’s the real deal. Farmiga is at least trying to have a good time (she certainly enjoys rocking some fabulous seventies outfits), but Wilson’s colourlessly earnest acting ruins her fun.