James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) has been highly appreciated by both critics and general audiences, something quite rare nowadays.
Followed by its likewise good sequel (2016), The Conjuring has set Wan among the best horror directors of all time – as if Saw (2004) wasn’t enough of a prove of the filmmaker’s talent.
The two films about Ed and Lorrain Warren (paranormal investigators active, for real, in the 50s and 60s in the US) have grossed an overall profit of 578.3 million of dollars (!), turning them into two of the most profitable movies in cinema history.
It was inevitable that production companies would have started a race to earn the rights for sequels, spin-offs and so on. The Warner Bros. Pictures has, so, gave the authorisation for Annabelle (2014), its sequel Annabelle: Creation (August, 11th 2017), The Nun (2018), The Crooked Man (TBA) and The Conjuring 3 (TBA) to be produced and released.
Obviously, Annabelle, the movie, played a crucial role in this trend, since it grossed over $256 million against its $6.5 million production budget. Although, contrarily to The Conjuring films, nearly none who’s seen it thought it was a decent movie.
Panned by critics and regular moviegoers, Annabelle is the archetype of production companies’ philosophy: they don’t care about providing people with quality cinema, they just crave for their money. Why would anyone appreciate the trite and tiresome attempt to a movie based on a coursed puppet and filled with horror clichés?
But, at the same time, why people went happily and jauntily to the cinemas just to be let down, big time? The answer is rather simple: audiences expected the same stuff they’ve been struck by in The Conjuring, even though Annabelle had a different director and, mostly, a pointless (if not entirely non-existent) plot, let alone a story-line.
Again, production companies don’t care what food they feed up audiences with. They just want to milk more money out of their pockets, with the minimum effort, when that’s possible.
The side effect of this trend – other than unsatisfying moviegoers and giving them loads of mediocre films – is even scarier. Indeed, for production companies is much easier and safer to connect poor quality products to better and more successful ones, linking them to the same world. In other words, it’s much less risky to fill up a pre-existent universe than trying un-walked (and, therefore, original) patterns.
Hopefully I’m totally wrong and I’ll be retracting my statements by then, but I’ve got the strong belief that The Nun and The Crooked Man will be absolute flops. The latter, in particular, picks up the worst character of the entire Conjuring Universe, a monster created purely out of CGI that inspired more laughs than frights.
Similarly, The Conjuring 3 will likely retrace the footprints of its predecessors. Which means it’s very susceptible to be boring and uninteresting.
That of ‘universising’ or ‘universisation’, up to you (I don’t mean to show off by creating new words, so sorry in advance if I sound posh), is an ongoing threat for contemporary cinema, which just happened to affect the horror genre lately.
Indeed, this trend kicked off already with the Marvel and DC Universe (Avengers and siblings, Justice League and company) and Universal’s Dark Universe (Dracula Untold and The Mummy).
It’s successful because it’s economically rewarding. Nothing more, nothing less. For instance, Universal’s Dark Universe has been largely deemed as laughable, whereas the DC Universe has gathered mixed reactions.
The Marvel Universe appears to be the only one unanimously perceived as good. However, if you stop for one second and think about it, all the Marvel films have the same storytelling, execution and ending – with a few honourable exceptions (Deadpool, Guardian of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), this cinematic universe is, basically, a giant scheme that repeats itself over and over again. Movie after movie, seamlessly.
In regards to the horror genre, this trend tends to be more even more dangerous, since it affects a specific cinema branch, the quality of which is already put in peril by the endless series of soulless remakes and reboots.
The implicit risk of creating a horror universe filled with unappealing and mediocre films is that quality flicks – which might benefit from smaller anticipations and, therefore, less advertising – will be liable to fly under the radars. This is already happening: great independent films such as The Eyes of my Mother and The Evil Within are being outrageously overlooked by mass audiences, who are just waiting for Annabelle: Creation and Insidious 4 to come out.
I want to make clear that I don’t blame James Wan, even in the slightest, for this disease (yes, that’s what I call it). If anything, Wan, with his immense talent has strengthened, throughout the years, the mainstream horror cinema thanks to his most famous motion pictures.
Unfortunately, though, his films have unintentionally pushed production companies to exploit said success in the easiest way possible, instead of taking them as an inspiration to revitalise on a large scale a genre that have seen a shortage of quality products in the 2000s – in addition, the few recent great horror movies often came from ‘abroad’ (i.e. not from the United States and Hollywood).
I know this post might seem a rent against mainstream production companies and, thus, mainstream horror cinema. Instead, I hope it may serve as food for thoughts for horror (and cinema) maniacs, like me, who want to sit through fulfilling experiences rather than disposable entertainment. Cheers!