When I saw The Conjuring (2013), I recall coming away from it thinking that it was not that bad. Typically, I do not go in for horror films. Aside from the grotesque and sometimes purposely cursed images that I would rather not see, I find them to be formulaic and predictable. However, two people drew me to The Conjuring, and they are Ed and Lorraine Warren. Now, I do not claim to be an expert on them, but there are some things with which I am vaguely aware. What makes them most interesting for me personally is that fact that they were devout Catholics. When you see them facing the powers of darkness, they are armed with the Faith that has stood as a bulwark against those forces for thousands of years. I like that they are seen doing so, but at the same time it is concerning. Hollywood so rarely takes Catholicism seriously, and it becomes more apparent what they think of the Church when you have a successful franchise like The Conjuring films. Hence, I have not seen any of the movies since the original until this weekend. Faced with either Spirit Untamed or The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, I chose the one with two Catholic protagonists and went to Confession before seeing it.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It takes us directly into the paranormal investigation world of the Warrens as Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren have been called to the Glatzel house to help with their young son David (Julian Hilliard). David is apparently possessed by a demon, and Ed and Lorraine are praying with the sweating and terrified boy as his mother, Judy (Charlene Amoia), holds him. After a little bit, his sister’s, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), boyfriend Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) puts him to bed telling the kid how brave he had been. Not long after laying down, though, David begins screaming as he is having a delusional episode caused by his possession. With a supernatural strength also brought on by these awful forces, they struggle to bring him downstairs. This is when Father Gordon (Steve Coulter) arrives to perform the exorcism, but the demon was having none of it. Flaunting the ritual, David first attacks Ed, triggering a heart attack in the older man. With David’s body twisting in unnatural ways, items flying around the room, and general chaos abounding, Arne takes matters into his own hands. Grabbing hold of the boy, Arne commands the demon to take hold of him instead. Immediately, the room calms down and everything seems to go back to normal. While Ed is taken to the hospital for a few days, Arne and Debbie return to their normal lives. Things are not right, however, for Arne. After coming home early from work one day because he is not feeling well, he gets into a slight altercation with his landlord Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins). Bruno is drunk and wanting to dance with Debbie, but all Arne wants to do is be alone. Bruno’s prodding, and the fact that Arne is now possessed, lead Arne to murder his landlord, a crime for which he is arrested. Since this behavior, to the Glatzels anyway, seems in keeping with David’s, the Warrens are called upon once again to look into the matter. In doing so, they find a satanic object under the Glatzel’s home. Not sure exactly of its origins, Father Gordon refers them to a former priest named Kastner (John Noble) who is able to identify the object’s true nature. This confirms for the Warrens that somebody is trying to curse the Glatzels, and they convince Arne’s attorney to enter a plea of not-guilty on the basis of demonic possession in his murder trial. The Warren’s job now is to gather evidence that shows a pattern to whoever is behind these satanic acts. Doing so brings the attention of that person, a satan worshipper (Eugenie Bondurant), who is apparently trying to complete some kind of complicated curse involving a bunch of people who need to be sacrificed. Ed Warren becomes one of those targets, while Arne continues to be tormented while he is in prison. When Lorraine returns to Kastner for further advice, she learns that the woman behind it all is actually his daughter, the result of a child conceived in secret while he was still a priest. She was raised while he had been investigating a satanic cult, and she became fascinated with it and began practicing the dark arts. Kastner did little because she is his daughter, though when she comes to his home while Lorraine is there, she does not hesitate to kill her father. Lorraine flees into the subterranean tunnels where the satanist has her lair, and the altar upon which she made the curse. Meanwhile, Ed comes to her aid when he realizes the truth himself, and despite feeling the effects of the curse Lorraine is able to lure him into destroying the altar. Doing so lifts the curse, and instead the demon that had been infesting so many comes to take the woman’s soul back to hell. Still, all this is not enough to stave off a prison sentence for Arne, though he is able to get it down to five years on manslaughter.
As I assumed would happen, there was much that I saw in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It that made me uncomfortable. It starts right at the beginning. The film makes it a point that the Warrens were there when Father Gordon comes to perform the exorcism on David, and that they are there to assist. The word “assist” in this scenario does not sit well with my knowledge, slim as it may be, of how the Church handles these rituals. First of all, it is not simply a matter of going to your parish and telling the local priest to stop by and perform an exorcism, like calling a plumber to fix a leaky faucet. While there is a throwaway line about having the Church’s approval for the ritual, that does not mean that it allows for regular people to do anything but maybe hold a person down. This is because lay people lack the rigorous training and battle tested Spiritual fortitude to enter into these situations, and even being in the same room can be extremely dangerous. I suppose the argument can be made that the Warrens were not your average Sunday Mass attendees, but did have some experience in the matter. What I worry about, though, are copycats. The film spoke to a tradition in Hollywood movies with the opening scenes, particularly ripping off The Exorcist (1973). There is Father Gordon’s arrival at the Glatzel’s home, which in lighting and camera angle is almost identical to Father Merrin’s (Max von Sydow) in the earlier film. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It does not stop with that snippet. In The Exorcist after Father Merrin’s performance of the exorcism, assisted by Father Karras (Jason Miller), appears to do nothing for poor Regan’s (Linda Blair) possession, Father Merrin grabs the girl and commands the demon to come into him instead. He then throws himself out the window. Without the attempted suicide, essentially the same thing happens with Arne and David in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. This is frustrating. Hollywood seems to only focus on the failed exorcisms because it does not want to acknowledge the power and dominion that God has over such forces. In the end, it is not any invocation of prayers that lifts the curse but smashing an altar with a hammer. Though not necessarily a better movie, if you want to see cinematic exorcisms be effectual, watch The Rite (2011).
I do not want to dignify The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It with too many more words. They were clearly trying to garner more attention with the title, and that is disturbing. What is also disturbing is when, after the curse is broken and the Warrens face the woman behind it, they stand idly by and watch a demon murder her and snatch her soul. I doubt the real Warrens would have let this happen. Everyone is capable of redemption as the Catholic Church teaches. I do not recommend this movie, unsurprisingly, even to the most devout of people. There was a time in my life when I thought I could stand up to evil forces. As I have grown in my Faith, I have learned that such things are not to be trifled with and I steer well clear of any kind of meddling. I find those priests who can take on these situations to be incredible people, and I pray that they have the strength to continue fighting the good fight. For the rest of us, I beg you, leave such things to the professionals.