There has always been a fascination with the supernatural and demonically possessed. When The Exorcist tapped into the American zeitgeist of the 1970s, horror cinema was changed as we know it. It cemented itself in history as a pop culture phenomenon that would ultimately pave the way for its many derivatives. Not long after, The Amityville Horror entered the scene. Though maybe not reaching the same infamy as The Exorcist, it too started a franchise of its own and continues to show no signs of stopping. Fast forward to the 2010s, The Conjuring carries the mantle as a juggernaut of horror movies centered on both demonic possessions and haunted houses. Over the past decade, it developed into The Conjuring Universe as it produced not only sequels but many spinoffs. Arguably, the most compelling thing about all of these franchises was that they were tightly or loosely based on true stories. Even for the nonbelievers, this could raise hairs, as one can watch or listen to the supposed real footage of some of the movies and go down the demonically possessed rabbit hole- testing the limits of our beliefs.
Found-footage movies have paralleled the same trajectory. With Cannibal Holocaust birthing this subgenre in 1980, it was films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity that really gave it momentum in the last twenty years. But what I have not really seen is actual documentary footage. Though the classics are all fictionalized, they have the freedom to make them truly scary. Taking the documentary approach, however, leaves a lot of room for error as its success depends on things really happening- something that is hard to control. This is what THE SLEEPLESS UNREST: THE REAL CONJURING HOME does for, well, The Real Conjuring Home. And I am sorry to say, it doesn’t completely deliver.
THE SLEEPLESS UNREST, directed by Kendall and Vera Whelpton, is a documentary that centers around a group of filmmakers and paranormal investigators who plan to stay in the infamous Conjuring house in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Recent owners and paranormal investigators themselves, Cory and Jennifer Heinzen, have claimed to see paranormal activity occur over the past couple years and are excited to share their experience with fellow enthusiasts. Before the famous Perron family moved in, the Conjuring home housed eight generations of one family whose history was riddled with murder, drownings, and hangings. But unlike the Perron family, this history is what attracted the Heinzen couple to move in. Now that the keys to the house belong to investigators, the doors have opened up to the public, allowing anyone to get a taste of the supernatural for a fee.
Over two weeks, this group of amateur investigators, including Kendall and Vera Whelpton with Richel Stratton and Brian Murray, come to the house prepared with cameras, motion detectors, and other paranormal sensors. They are clearly excited to immerse themselves in the potential horror of the house, doing anything they can to expose themselves to lurking spirits. Mainly finding opening doors, activated sensors, and mysterious lights, they push themselves to find meaning in any movement.
What this documentary does well is it creates tension that is felt amongst the investigators and audience alike, because we are all on the same page of simultaneously hoping and being afraid of finding something out of the ordinary. So, when the team bolts to the cellar, the scariest room in The Conjuring by far, shit starts to feel real. But as time passes it becomes clear that this documentary is just going to leave us hanging with nothing to sink our teeth into. It is all suspense and no delivery. Much of what the team experiences or sees is hard to convey through a camera and is completely exaggerated or anticlimactic. By the end of the movie, it is clear that this documentary was mainly about amateurs wanting to not only believe that they are seeing things but convince us that they are seeing things. It is still hard to find too much fault, however, because they worked with what they could get- which if anything, is delivering the reality of the house as it stands today- a home with passive spirits and no evil Bathsheba Sherman ghost in sight.
In the end, THE SLEEPLESS UNREST: THE REAL CONJURING HOME shows that if we want to really understand what the house is like today, it might be best for us to just visit it ourselves… or maybe not.
THE SLEEPLESS UNREST: THE REAL CONJURING HOME will be released in select theaters and on Video On Demand on July 16, 2021, via Gravitas Ventures.