Filmmaker James Wan has given us box office horror hits full of thrill, shock and suspense—purely based on creative imagination—like Saw and Insidious. But his latest endeavor, The Conjuring, is based on the ‘true’ case files of two internationally famous paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorrain Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes’ script tells a terrifying visual and emotional story — one told through an entirely new understanding of paranormal phenomenon. How so? People of faith (be they Baptist, Methodist or Buddhist) traditionally avoid horror flicks, even though these films are often focused on a core of spiritual truth. There’s a message in many horror films, i.e., the spiritual forces of good prevail over evil.
The Conjuring tells the true story of real life ‘demonologists’ Ed and Lorraine Warren in their case of the Perron family haunting in 1970s Rhode Island. The Warrens were also the paranormal investigators who handled the Amityville Horror case.
Wan’s latest work includes the usual panning camera (a technique making you feel like the characters are being followed or watched); gravity-defying effects; and a balancing act of lingering ‘insecurity’ juxtaposed to adrenaline-pumping action. But it’s the plot that the Hayes twins, aged 52, envisioned and brought to life that makes this film unlike others in its genre (e.g., the Paranormal Activity films). Their intention was to make the centrality of faith a key theme.
The movie holds a certain authenticity, which can be attributed to a great cast of talented actors. But part of this lies in the portrayal of the Warrens. They’re not your typical, superstitious diviners. The couple is depicted as relatively normal, save their unconventional gifts (Ed is a demonologist, and Lorraine is a clairvoyant). Historically, Ed was the only ‘lay’ exorcist ever ordained by the Roman Catholic Church. Lorraine has the ability to sense and see spirits.
At the start of the film, Lorraine tells her husband, “You said that God brought us together for a reason,” insisting that she go along with him on the Perron case. The constant presence of God as the force propelling the Warrens to action continues throughout the film. As the Warrens track the three stages of haunting (infestation, oppression, possession), it becomes obvious that the Perron family is especially vulnerable to demonic activity because they are not people of faith. The fact that the Warrens are Christians means that they would pose a threat to evil forces seeking claim over the family. Ed and Lorraine exemplify husband and wife teamwork and impenetrable courage that adds an element most modern horror films leave out: hope.
The Hayes brothers are Messianic Jews (Christians who also observe all the Jewish laws and rituals). Their faith, interestingly, played a role in how they formed the plotline for the film.
“We’re both Christians. We believe in family values. We believe in God,” the Hayes brothers said of their own experience. “We grew up going to church every Sunday. It’s interesting having faith and having the ability to write about our faith.”
Viewers might be surprised to learn that Ephesians 6:12 is at the heart of this movie. It reads: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
As for critics who might dismiss the Hayes brothers’ participation in a movie that deals with such dark themes, the two dismissed potential critiques.
“That’s hypocritical. There is a message in our movie and as Christians we’re obliged to witness to people,” they responded. “We are blessed if this changes one person or a thousand peoples’ lives.”
While Ed Warren passed away in 2007, Lorraine is still alive. The 86-year-old has been in contact with the Hayes brothers and even advertised the movie’s filming on her official website.
The Conjuring is a terrifying film, and not for the faint of heart or spirit. Judging from the nearly unanimous positive reviews it’s getting, it is one of the scariest movies of 2013.
The Conjuring was the ‘number one’ movie in America last weekend, making $41.5 million. It is rated ‘R’ for violence and terror—although I, personally, feel than many films with scarier episodes somehow have been awarded a ‘PG-13’ rating. Wan had wanted and expected that PG-13 rating, but refused to take any of the most horrific episodes out just to get it. He has also asserted that the rating board came up with the ‘R’ rating because the film is based on a true story.