Like many American children from the South, I was brow-beaten with a fear of the Devil from an early age. Everything fun was a potential path to eternal damnation, from cursing to passing notes to reading Harry Potter books. Threats made only scarier by the fact they were often explained to you by plain, nice older people who looked more like Pixar characters than they did warriors for Christ. Such a weird drilling of fear has an effect on the young person: one, you feel an immediate dread upon seeing modestly dressed white women clutching a bible, and two, religious horror films have an undeniable draw. This second one can actually be a blessing in disguise, as it often makes you realise just how silly the stories of Christian terror you grew up fearing actually are. Upon your fifth viewing of The Omen or The Exorcist, you’ve become largely desensitised to the hellfire and damnation, focused more on the physics of pea-soup spew and or how hot Gregory Peck remained well into his fifties.
It also, so it happens, makes you very good at picking up on films that try to sell you the whole Christianity package. This leads me to my conspiracy theory about The Conjuring series: they want you to convert. Masquerading as horror movies, they’re actually propaganda for a traditional, heteronormative, faith-based life. And damn, do they try to make that faith-based life look sexy. From the horny tension they inject into the Warren relationship to the uncut masculinity of Christian he-man Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) , the series makes an argument for the same kind of relationship every priest and baptist revivalist tried to sell me as a child. Here, I would like to break down the themes I’ve noticed in The Conjuring series, so we may, as a community, discuss and heal.
Hot, Married Catholic Sex
If there is one thing these movies want you to know, it is that Ed and Lorraine Warren fuck. It’s present in the easy chemistry that Vera Farmiga and Wilson have with each other, but more so in the script: every film there is time taken to assure you that these two people are soulmates, bound to each other by divine purpose and hot, Catholic desire. Near the middle of the first film, fearing for his wife’s safety, Ed tries to conceal some case information from Lorraine (Farmiga). However – I guess forgetting his wife is a clairvoyant – she calls him out on his secrecy and reminds him of a pact they made long ago, asking “Do you remember what we said on our wedding night?” With a smirk, Ed responds, “Can we do it again?” referring, it is to be assumed, to some hot mutual virginity loss as blessed by Jesus. She gives him a knowing smile before softly correcting him.
In the second film, it’s even more overt. On their first night at the haunted Hodsgen residence, our two soulmates are separated by the bane of all mid-century married couple’s sex life: twin beds. Upon crawling in, Ed tells Lorraine across the room he doesn’t know if he can sleep with her so far away from him. Lorraine smirks, telling him that it’ll give him something to look forward to upon their return to the States and what I can only imagine is a very hard-mattressed marital bed. There’s less sex in the third film – they’re older, slowed down, reached that ‘companionate’ stage of long term love – but their connection is stronger than ever. In one of the last gasps of the film’s tension, our injured hero Ed has forgotten his heart pills in his haste to go save Lorraine from the satanic witch (or, as my friend August and I referred to her after she seemed to force-call Lorraine a la The Last Jedi, Ky-Lorraine). With a knowing smile, she pops open her locket and shows him she has kept one of his life saving pills for such emergencies – right by her heart. That’s real love, you heathens.
Watching all three films in a row put me back to being in sixth grade when the abstinence-only speaker crumpled up two pieces of flat foil together and told us that was what sex does to your soul, so you better be damn careful to choose one and only only one person lest you become a used up bitty piece of trash. Or, worse, end up like the non-Christian or unmarried sex-havers in these films, half of whom become possessed by murderous demons. Speaking of…
Broken Families, Non- Christians, and Pre-Marital Sex-Havers are Doomed
Had you and your sinful lifestyle hoped to escape a haunting? Not in the Warren’s world, baby. Unless you’ve been baptised, kept your marriage intact, and/or dedicated an entire room of your house to haunted objects, you’re really just biding your time until a poltergeist shows up ready to take advantage of your blissfully ignorant secularism.
In the first film, the haunting really begins after the self-admitted irreligious couple ‘christen’ their new house. The next day, not only is the wife bruised up (not in a sexy way), but the dog went and hung itself. This seems wrong, as I was told multiple times by preachers that by only having martial sex I would prevent my pets from committing ghost-based suicide, but it seems I still have a lot to learn. The family is even denied an exorcism because the children have not been baptised – which seems small potatoes when battling a three hundred year old child-killing witch, but rules are rules I guess.
In the second film, the Warrens show up in late 70’s London to help the Hogsden family battle a creepy nun demon they encountered in Amityville who, it seems, has the unholy ability of trans-Atlantic travel. The film seems to posit the family’s biggest hindrance to fighting the ghost is not so much a lack of Christ as it is a missing father, but more on this later. Finally, in the latest third film, the main antagonist is a witch (the aforementioned Ky-Lorraine, played by Eugenie Bondurant) secretly sired by a Catholic priest. If that wasn’t enough of an offence to God, she goes and possesses a Catholic boy living in sin (Ruairi O’Connor) to kill his alcoholic landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins). For all her powers, though, the witch is pretty easily brought down when Ed smashes her altar with a sledgehammer blessed by the local parish (I made that last part up but you weren’t surprised, were you?). The only instances of good, rule-abiding Christians being terrorised are either the Warrens themselves (who, to be fair, put themselves in this situation) or their daughter, Judy (Sterling Jerins), who shouldn’t have wandered into Annabelle’s room in the first place!
Have You Considered You’re a Bad Mother?
The Conjuring has some things to say about motherhood. This is mostly concentrated in the first film, but it’s such a looming theme it must be discussed.
The first Conjuring details the haunting of the Perrons, a seven person family made up of two parents and five unbaptised daughters. The fated Perrons move into a farmhouse haunted by a satanic witch named Bathsheba (a name we really need to bring back, by the way) who sacrificed her newborn to Satan before ending her own life in the 1700s. Since then, her spirit has lingered, possessing the mothers who move into the house, driving them to do as she did, in Lorraine’s words, “Use her god-given gift as the ultimate offence against him”.
So, to clarify: God-given gift = the ability to procreate, and ultimate offence = getting rid of the kid.
This… is an abortion witch.
No. Seriously. Humour me:
The Conjuring portrays motherhood as being the ultimate prize a woman can attain: it’s made explicit in the scenes where Lorraine and Carolyn (my favourite “it’s that lady!” actress, Lily Taylor) discusses the witch’s motivations. The two are disgusted by the prospect of a woman harming her own child, which, given the heavy Christian themes in the film, feels like a direct look into the camera. Ironically, it is suggested that it is this same matronly love that makes Carolyn the weakest in the house, and therefore the prime target of the demon (which is a bit insulting, given she shares the house with five children ranging from ages five to sixteen years old, but I digress). When a possessed Carolyn eventually has the youngest of her brood at knife point, it’s only Lorraine, not her husband, utilising a death grip to the forehead, who convinces Carolyn she can’t give up the family that brings her so much joy. Such appeals to motherhood buy them enough time to exorcise the demon, and Carolyn can finally exit the house and enter the loving embrace of her family. Even the one she tried to kill is down for a long hug. I would actually kill for a Lady Bird styled sequel that takes place twelve years later when the kid is about to leave for college and has to deal with the strained relationship with a mother who tried to kill her but only when she was possessed. Where’s that movie? Call me, James Wan.
Look, the Warrens want your family because you’re not doing a good enough job. Maybe if you had, there wouldn’t be so many fucking ghosts. And while Lorraine has the caring air of an adopted mother, it doesn’t even begin to compare to the father role that Ed eagerly, almost aggressively, takes on in these cases.
Not to sound like a 13 year old boy in 2009, but the way Ed Warren cucks the atheist Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) in the first film is a study in masculinity. Before Ed and Lorraine arrive, Richard’s barely holding his family together: he’s surrounded by six ghost-tormented women, he’s barely making ends meet, and his old Chevy is broken down in the garage. The man’s at his wit’s end. The first morning after the Warrens stay over? The family’s making a pancake breakfast and Carolyn is singing their praises, claiming the family hadn’t felt as safe in weeks without them there. The real kicker, though, is when Roger finds Ed fixing the broken down Chevy he claimed was beyond hope while exasperatingly explaining hauntings as if talking to a child. Oh, but not for Ed, who coolly fixes the car just as he’s fixing this poor man’s family. Too bad, Roger, maybe if you had gone to church more you wouldn’t need a sexy, muscled exorcist to come and pick up the pieces of your life. Ed Warren certainly never banged a demon into his wife.
This show of masculinity is only made worse in the following two films. In The Conjuring 2, Ed takes over the dad role to a cliché degree. Not only does he seem determined to fix every broken appliance in the house, he also brings the family together…through song.
I’m not kidding.
Near the middle of the movie, Ed asks Peggy (Frances O’Connor) about the children’s missing father. She tells him he ran off with the woman around the corner and took all the house’s records with him. In a later scene, Ed comes back with all four children, who are just BRISTLING with joy, brandishing some Elvis records. But – horror! – the record player is broken. The following scene, I swear I did not make up.
Ed notices a guitar that is conveniently in the corner. Promising his new children, “There will be music in this house,” he goes and picks it up and begins to play Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.” The children then all sing along without a hint of embarrassed irony. It was as if the Von Trapps lived in Hill House. The first time I saw this, I lost my damn mind. It had such an effect that I wasn’t even shocked by the ending, where Ed catches a falling Janet (Madison Wolfe) from falling out a window with one arm, screaming with pure masculine strength as the wimpy curtains he’s using as a rope begin to give out. Don’t worry though, Lorraine saves him in time. They still have a sex date back in the States.
Ed’s masculinity does get put to the test in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Our strong man for Christ is put in the hospital by an angry, heart-attack doling demon. He makes a recovery, but he’s weakened, unable to crawl under houses or hunt for evil artefacts. His strength returns, however, when he realises Lorraine is in danger (don’t you want what they have???) and he must rush to save her. In probably my least favourite cheesy moment of the series, a possessed Ed is about to bring a sledgehammer down on Lorraine before she reminds him of their first kiss in a gazebo, so long ago. Brought back to his senses, he instead breaks Ky-Lorraine’s altar, breaking her enchantment and damning her to hell. The film ends with Ed surprising Lorraine with a gazebo I am 100% sure we are meant to believe he built with his own hands before pulling his wife into a kiss.
Look, I know that I may have some residual trauma from being forced into countless Vacation Bible School classes where cartoon characters tell me that Jesus and capitalism are the only way for me to be happy. But I’m not making this up, right? The Conjuring series is trying to say something with its sexy Catholic Avengers, battling all forms of abortion witches, demon nuns, and illegitimate priest satanist babies. I’m just brave enough to start the conversation. And that’s what I would like to have with you, dear public: a conversation, about the strategic use of Patrick Wilson, AKA America’s Hot Horror dad, Lorraine Warren’s high, high collars, and the creeping sense of guilt and fear that undercuts these films, filling me with the annoying urge to run back into the judgemental arms of the South Texas baptist community that once told me the only way my sins would be washed away was if I let a middle aged man with a goatee and board shorts touch my forehead and “save me”. So, for the sake of the inevitable Conjuring 4’s plot, let’s chat.
by Hannah Granberry
Hannah Granberry is a graduate student and critic based in Edinburgh. More of her weird opinions and work can be found on Twitter.
Categories: Anything and Everything, Films
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