Calvin Morie McCarthy, a writer-director-cinematographer, previously worked on a film called An Amityville Poltergeist, which had different titles before its release. His new film, which shares a similarly opportunistic title, focuses on sleep paralysis and related urban legends. This theme has gained attention in recent years, particularly after the documentary The Nightmare highlighted the idea that sharing stories of being frozen in bed with a dark figure looming over can potentially cause others to have similar dreams. Since then, numerous fictional films, such as Mara, Slumber, and The Harbinger, have explored this concept. McCarthy’s film is the latest addition to this collection of movies centered around the terrifying experience of sleep paralysis.
It is interesting that McCarthy’s film attempts to connect with the Conjuring franchise through its title, yet the narrative structure seems to be inspired by The Haunting. The main character, Wanda Fulcia, has a heated argument with her brother and sister-in-law, reminiscent of a similar confrontation in The Haunting involving Eleanor and her sister. Wanda escapes her suffocating situation by “borrowing” a car and joining a pseudoscientific experiment as a volunteer. Dr. Richard Pretorious is the researcher conducting the study on sleep paralysis in a decommissioned school, which introduces a variety of other characters who should not be too closely attached to. One of these characters, named Theo, is portrayed by Tim Coyle, while Margo, similar to Theo from The Haunting of Hill House, is a tattooed and attractive character rather than a lesbian.
During a session where the characters are getting to know each other, Wanda expresses her objection to participating in the study since she doesn’t suffer from sleep paralysis. However, Dr. P reassures her that he can induce the condition in all of them through hypnosis, which is clearly a bad idea. Soon, a night hag, who is both slightly comical and occasionally genuinely scary, starts to haunt everyone. Characters begin to disappear from the facility, and the typical trope of confiscated phones and keys prevents them from seeking outside help, heightening the danger. The tension escalates effectively until a twist ending that could be predicted if one paid attention in the beginning. Similar to An Amityville Poltergeist, a film with one genuinely disturbing idea, Conjuring the Beyond playfully pays homage to horror classics while featuring some uneven performances. Larkin’s casting as a knowledgeable character, despite his burly rugby-player appearance, adds an odd touch. Nevertheless, the film is sincere, subtly creepy, and occasionally sparks intrigue.