Divorced and left to wallow in her own self-pity, Wanda Fulcia moves into her brother and wife’s house but her inability to secure a job and act responsible has proved difficult with her hosts as she continues to ask for favors, such as borrowing her brother’s car to drive to a paid sleep study in the middle of a nearly deserted small town. Dr. Pretorious, the head clinician of the study, seeks to hypnotize his four, sleep paralysis unaffected, participants to open their portion of the brain to produce night terrors and sleepwalking in order to treat the condition. What the participants are really opened to is a nightmare state of being paralyzed while aware of an old, animalistic hag surveying them as they lie powerless to move. At dawn, they all convey recalling the same dream and realize one of them is missing. The recorded video shows the missing participant sleepwalking from his room without a trace of where they’ve gone. The next night, the ordeal repeats itself and another member of their party goes missing. Wanda and those left must uncover the mystery behind their night terrors before they back to sleep again.
Borrowing from the tall story superstitions that sleep paralysis was the work of demons while also plucking ideas from Stuart Gordon’s perceptually other-dimensional horror film, “From Beyond” and James Wan’s spirit-investigating “The Conjuring,” Calvin Morie McCarthy writes and directs his own unofficial, unauthorized, and unsanctioned sublevel spinoff with “Conjuring the Beyond.” The Vancouver, Washington born 30-year-old filmmaker has been through his fair share of direct-to-video horror refuse, even etching himself into the running joke of “Amityville” titled cheapies with his entry “The Amityville Poltergeist” that has garnered a general public rating of 2.2 on IMDB.com. That low score doesn’t tarnish our objective goal to look at “Conjuring the Beyond” impartially without the blatant cash-in title affecting our sound judgement because, trust me, we’ve seen our lion’s share of reused, reworked, and rehashed titles. The film marks the first 2022 release for McCarthy and is produced by Chad Buffet of the Renton, Washington based special effects and props company, Raptor FX Studio, along with Joe Dietrich’s co-created company 7th Street Productions with McCarthy and Richard Wolff of Breaking Glass Pictures who distributes the film with an at-home release.
At the heart of the story is Wanda Fulcia played by Victoria Grace Borrello in her feature film debut. The Loyola University graduate of the arts, Borrello offers a new face and a serious craft performance toward a recently divorced person who has become lost in themselves. Wanda’s written to be entrenched into any kind situation that befalls her whether be with her own troubles of self-discovery or the beleaguering troubles of a cerebral doorway opened to let a malevolent entity into her subconscious. Who opened that mental gateway is the potentially guileful psyche-physician, Dr. Richard Pretorious. Pretorious, as all horror fans know, is a homage to “From Beyond’s” Dr. Edward Pretorious, the main antagonist who used a machine called The Resonator to expand a person’s mind into other dimensions. “Mutant Vampire from the Planet Neptune’s” Steve Larkin certainly does not portray the diabolism in her version of a Pretorious Doctor but there is this underlining itch that can’t exactly be scratched regarding the character’s true intentions. This unfinished business happens between both Wanda Fulcia and Dr. Richard Pretorious and that takes away from completing well-rounded characters who never see themselves cross that arc finish line. Essentially, both are stuck in a disappointing stasis of unfulfillment, and their morals and their emotional baggage are carelessly left to the wind. I found the secondary principals more impressive and a little more understandable with tidbits of themselves being dropped like breadcrumbs through the variable time on screen. Cocky boxer Porter (Jon Meggison, “The Haunting of Ravenwood”), a tarot card floozie Margo (Jax Kellington, “Cross Hollow”), and midwestern drunkard Theo (Tim Coyle, “I Need You Dead!”) are the other three participants of the sleep study and each provide a unique image that continues to keep us interested and where they possible might end up retired on the runtime scale. Neil Green, Erik Skybak, and Chynna Rae Shurts as the skulking Sleep Demon.
With an amusing banter of well-written dialogue, a passable night terror demoness, and a nodding homage or two to a couple of horror powerhouse films, “Conjuring the Beyond” has scrappy potential to be something a touch more than just a capitalizer of better and already completed novel ideas. “Conjuring the Beyond” ends like an unfinished thought that asks more questions than provides answers in its thematic night terror framework. Shurts’ Sleep Demon is sorely underused and mostly not present to be invoking scares from the feature. Shurts is cladded on a budget but well adequate to eerie up the antagonist enough with fake long nails, fake gnarly teeth, and a dark shawl or robe attire that slinks and creeps in-and-out of alert sleep paralysis patients. McCarthy also dives into another theme of shared experiences or mutual dreams that then send a shiver of petrifying terror zipping through a collective’s inner being. More precisely in that theme is one’s person’s affliction affects or infects the surrounding others; we also see this at the beginning with a Wanda’s brother Nick and his wife negatively feeling Wanda’s ability to rebound from an ugly divorce. However, not all scenes make complete sense. The prologue of a man trembling in his bed and watching the Sleep Demon slither into his room before snatching him from his bed is detached from the trunk of the story much like a dead branch lying next to not it’s tree provenance. Yes, the branch part of a tree, just not this tree. Other aspects of the film also don’t make much sense or lack explanation is the participants who disappear reappear as sleep walking zombies under the control, possession, or will of the Sleep Demon and to what purpose is far from being seen.
“Conjuring the Beyond” evokes images of demons and terror onto a DVD home video from the Philadelphia based, provocative independent film distributor Breaking Glass Pictures. The MPEG-4 encoded DVD5 is a NTSC, region 1, unrated U.S. release presented in a CinemaScope widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The lossy codec compression appears to sustain a relatively good picture throughout the 90-minute runtime with little-to-no banding or issues and toned-down artifacts concentrated more so around darker scenes around the delineation of objects in the background. Noticeable post-production issues don’t go unnoticed when the visual effect of compositing CCTV footage on a computer screen was left undone and so there is a scene where the sleep study participants and Dr. Pretorious are huddled around a laptop staring at a blank, black screen while providing commentary on the disappearance of a fellow member of their group. The lossy English dual-channel stereo mix offers a mediocre, yet still strongly inclusive, audio output that has slight issues maintaining consistent decibel levels at times. Dialogue can sound muted at times or distant and then suddenly be more robust in the same breath. English subtitles are available if opted. Depth and range work well with the fear atmospherics and environments. The release is feature only with only a static menu on the DVD that’s encased in a normal black snapper case with egregiously deceptive artwork of a woman floating above her bed; no floating happens in the film. Perhaps less misrepresentative if titled something more original, “Conjuring the Beyond” holds tightly to the coattails of other iconic horror films but tweaks the story just enough to tease a fresh take toward the unharnessed and terrifying dimensions stemmed by the power of the mind.