THE CONJURING (2013) is notable not only for being a first-class supernatural drama, but also as the first entry in a series of branching films that would come to be known as “The Conjuring Universe,” currently at seven films and counting.
On its release, THE CONJURING stood alone, based on its own merits which were considerable. Expertly directed by James Wan, it presented a familiar story — basically, a family in a house beset by demonic forces — that recalled key plot elements of such films as THE EXORCIST or THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play loosely fictionalized versions of real-life occult investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
They are called in to help the Perron family, consisting of Carolyn (Lili Taylor), Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters. Roger is a truck driver who’s frequently on the road.
Squabbling siblings and financial pressures are tough enough to deal with, but the family’s real troubles don’t start until they move into a charming lakeside fixer upper.
It starts quickly. The family dog refuses to enter the new home and is soon found dead. The daughters are assailed in the night by foul smells and violent forces.
An antique music box give glimpses of a ghostly child. A once sealed-off basement traps Carolyn, isolating her from her daughters.
The Warrens arrive and, sympathetic to the family’s plight, begin their investigation. Lorraine’s psychic powers put her at risk of harm from the residing malevolent presence. They also allow her to determine that the home once belonged to a witch named Bathsheba who murdered her own child.
Soon Bathsheba possesses Carolyn, intent on using one of the Perron daughters to repeat the evil cycle.
Unable to wait for the church to authorize an exorcism, Ed, who is not a priest, performs his own off-the-cuff version of the ritual in a desperate attempt to save Carolyn’s soul and the children’s lives.
The particular strength of THE CONJURING is the warmth of the characters. Both the Warrens and the Perrons are presented as likable, decent people. In a homely touch, between his investigative and exorcism work, Ed helps fix the Perrons’ rundown vehicle.
While there’s plenty of dread and terror, the film also helps us feel the strength of the Perron family’s love for each other. In fact, Bathsheba is driven out when Lorraine is able to help Carolyn summon the memory of a rare “perfect” day the family once spent together.
We are left with the feeling that, however destructive and dangerous these evil forces may be, good can still prevail with the help of a little faith and friendship. At least for the time being.
In a side plot, THE CONJURING introduces the doll Annabelle, an object that will be revealed to be a conduit for demonic forces.
Kept secured in a glass case within the Warren home in a locked-off treasure trove of cursed objects and paranormal artifacts, Annabelle is about the creepiest-looking doll ever seen, making a powerful initial impression. (Her story will receive primary focus in ANNABELLE (2014) and other films that tell their own story but are part of the larger Conjuring mythos.)
Rather than build a straight series of sequels, the filmmakers successfully created their own interconnected filmic universe, based upon the semi-fictionalized files of the Warrens’ exploits in demonology.
We hadn’t seen such a thing since Universal teamed up its leading horror characters (Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and the Wolfman) in films like 1944’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Clearly eying the extraordinarily profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe, Universal has in recent years made attempts to launch a new series of interconnected “Dark Universe” monster vehicles, through such films as DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), but so far without significant success.
Legendary Entertainment has done better with a successful series of interconnected “Monsterverse” giant creature films, starting with GODZILLA in 2014 and scheduled to continue with next year’s GODZILLA VS. KONG.
Further entries in the Conjuring saga, including THE CONJURING 3 set for release next year, are in the works.