And, How That Story Limits The "Conjuring" Franchise
Part of the flair of James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) is its connection to the real-life paranormal investigators, The Warrens, and their written exploits. The late couple captivated the world with their encounters with the paranormal, tales of real-life exorcisms, as well as their infamous Occult Museum. The Raggedy-Anne Doll “Annabelle,” demon masks, and death curses once lined the museum, which shut down in 2019, due to zoning violations. All of these items were souvenirs of the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, shown in The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 (2016), and other films in the franchise.
Emphasizing the “true story” element communicates to the audience that the events on-screen were real, and that they happened to real people. However, a single Google search on the Warrens complicates the supposed historicity of their exploits. Everything from the Amityville haunting, to their infamous consultation on the court case as shown in the franchise’s upcoming film The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021), is fraught with controversy.
Multiple skeptics and investigators have gone through the Warrens’ museum items and supplemental video evidence of exorcisms, and other paranormal happenings. Professor, and noted participant in the skeptic movement, Steven Novella, conducted such an investigation into the Warrens and found that any claims of the Warrens having scientific proof of the existence and persistent influence of ghosts or demonic possession were false. Novella stated in a 1997 interview with The Connecticut Post that he merely found the Warrens to be “a very nice couple, some very authentic people, but absolutely no compelling evidence.”
Not only does this “true story” angle play as disingenuous, it actively limits the maturation of the franchise. The mainline Conjuring films are consistently well shot, well cast, and overall executed with quality. This quality has elevated the franchise to its status as the second-highest-grossing horror franchise in history. Yet, current iterations retain the “true story” angle, while simultaneously attempting to deliver on the formula established throughout the film series, to mixed results.
Horror films such as Psycho (1960) and The Exorcist (1973) heavily dramatize the source events they draw from to tell a more thematically-enriching story. Psycho expresses how people fail to keep their pasts from corrupting their present. The Exorcist deals with themes of evil and religious doubt, as well as the disintegration of the family unit. While the films in The Conjuring franchise deliver concrete and specific characters in the Warrens, played remarkably by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, the thematic considerations of the films rarely go beyond their romantic relationship, or their relationship with the occult.
The Conjuring franchise is not vapid by any stretch of the phrase. The films offer relatable and compelling perspectives on religion and family dynamics, with the Warrens’ relationship at its heart. Yet, the franchise is constrained by the “true stories” they are based on, stories that come with a whirlwind of controversy, and that focus more on surface-level demonic confrontations rather than examining the theological or societal subtext of its subject matter. The demonic nun, as seen in The Conjuring 2, presents a horrifying perversion of Lorraine’s faith, yet this is the most thematic subtext we see in the film.
The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It releases simultaneously in theaters and on the HBO MAX streaming service June 4th, 2021.
Check out the official trailer for “The Conjuring 3.”