American Conjuring (2016)

She’s waiting for you

Writers: Ken King, Dan Walton
Directors: Dan Walton, Dan Zachary

American Conjuring – aka Bind – is, rather confusingly, a Canadian horror movie. However almost all the action takes place at one location, so the country doesn’t matter too much. It’s on the North American continent which probably justifies the title.

The film begins in 2004 at the Carrington orphanage where one of the young girls is having a birthday party. Unfortunately the others bully her and dare her to go down into the supposedly haunted basement. Whilst down there she sees a scary old woman. Suffice to say that what happens next involves a knife and the closure of the orphanage.

This opening sequence is really powerful. The direction is nicely atmospheric with plenty of foreshadowing; we know roughly what’s going to happen, we’re just waiting for the details. It’s also unusual and suggested that the story was going to be something original.

Fast forward to present day and the old orphanage is being bought as a family home. The family concerned consists of parents Ben (Darren Matheson) and Carol (Lynn Csontos) along with their two daughters Zoe (Mackenzie Mowat) and Alyssa (Eliza Faria).

From here the film moves into much more standard and less original haunted house/possession territory. The family dynamic isn’t great to start with and gets far worse as things spiral out of control
via plenty of cliches.

So after a compelling first scene we find ourselves watching a fairly ordinary story. Although ‘story’ is perhaps the wrong word. The film doesn’t really have much in the way of underlying narrative drive. It’s more a series of incidents punctuated by family arguments and the occasional infodump, though much is still not explained.

That said, the incidents are really creepy. What a haunted house movie needs more than anything is atmosphere and American Conjuring has tons of atmosphere. The direction by Walton and Zachary works really well. It’s just a shame the story progression is so erratic, resulting in a whole that is less than the sum of the parts.

For most of the film I was willing to sit back and let the superb atmosphere wash over me without worrying too much about the weak plot. I was thinking it was an ok film which didn’t really deserve the low rating on IMDB.

Then came the ending.

Big. Mistake.

The ending of American Conjuring is a masterclass is what to do wrong with a script. Presumably the idea was to provide a clever twist – but it’s far from clever. Not only does the ending fail on many levels but it also manages to bring the rest of the film down with it. I’m not going to go into detail, I don’t do spoilers, I’ll just say you were probably about ten years old when you learned that this was a bad way to end a story.

The result is that American Conjuring gets two stars from me, saved from the one star graveyard only by the strength of its atmosphere.