July 25, 2013


“The Conjuring” is a scary Mary, based-on-a-true-story, supernatural thriller about demonic entities harassing a family in Rhode Island in 1971.

The story is personal and intriguing with much naturalistic acting and loving attention to details. There’s a very gradual build to the full-blown horror stuff. The art direction is impeccable and we are transported to a simpler time (if you can believe the 70’s was a simpler time). The Perron Family: Mom (Lili Taylor—great 70’s Mom), Dad (Rob Livingston) and four girls are of modest means, and have moved into an old farm house with high hopes. It doesn’t take long for things to deteriorate. Bizarre happenings necessitate enlisting the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and the born-to-do-preternatural-visuals Vera Farmiga),“demonologists” connected with a “Fr. Gordon” and the Catholic Church. Ed and Lorraine have a daughter of their own. (Yeah, you can guess the demons are going to leave HER alone.)

We become involved in the lives of these two young families and cheer for them as things go from bad to hellish. Unexplainable, creepy little abnormalities begin happening, but then we being to see full-blown hissy-fitting demons and ghosts (which always ruins it for me). I’ve never been scared by or able to get into Stephen King tales for this reason. However, “The Conjuring” IS very scary, even when over the top.
The theology is both accurate and squishy at the same time which, of course, is problematic. Examples:

Accurate: Laypersons are not authorized to do exorcisms.
Squishy: In an emergency, laypersons are authorized to do exorcisms.

Accurate: Phenomena such as cold rooms, bad smells and things going bump in the night can accompany the presence of evil spirits.
Squishy: All kinds of ghosts, demons, birds, destruction, storms, possessions and other paranormal incidents happening wildly all at the same time in the same place.

Accurate: It’s good to have your kids baptized.
Squishy: The Vatican needs to give permission to do an exorcism for the unbaptized (???).

Accurate: The devil doesn’t possess things, things are only vessels in order to be able to possess humans.
Squishy: The house still needed an exorcism because the evil entities attached to “the family” and would follow them wherever they go (???).

There seems to be a heavy-handed Christian message below (with a begrudging tip of the hat to the Catholic Church). My guess? Evangelicals.

Witches are real and they’re evil. Evil humans. They engage in child ritual sacrifice.

The strength of a mother’s love and the love of family is a strong theme. But even stronger than this theme (repeated SEVERAL times) is the chillingly “pro-life” statement: “The demon possesses the mother so she will kill the child.” At one point, Caroline (the mother of the haunted family) asks Lorraine Warren: “But how could a mother [the witch] kill her own child?” Lorraine: “It’s not a child to her. She uses her God-given gift [giving birth, but then killing her child] to raise herself in the eyes of Satan.”

I usually never watch devil flicks (I’ve only seen “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”—excellent! and “The Rite”—good) because they scare the daylights out of me, and I hate making Satan a movie star. This is probably my last devil flick. But Fr. Gabriele Amorth, SSP, one of our Pauline priests, former head exorcist of Rome and author of “An Exorcist Tells His Story,” thinks that any movies about the demonic that help people believe in and understand the reality of evil and the devil are good, even if they’re somewhat theologically off base.

Me, Father Amorth & Andy, 2011
Society of St. Paul Generalate, Rome
(where Blessed James Alberione lived for many years)


--Lady at cinema ticket booth called “The Conjuring”: “nasty scary.”

--This film will worthily enter the canon of devil flicks.

--"Poltergeist"-like. Even an homage: lengthy shot of a TV gone all static-y.

--I haven’t done any background research on the actual story of either the Warrens or the Perrons (but you will see their photos at the end during the credits).

--Just the right amount of jerky handheld, but not too much! (Common mistake in horror/thrillers.)

--Lotsta rosaries! Yay!

--The pop music soundtrack was too psychedelic 60’s, but the scary soundtrack? Marrow-shriveling.

--There are a few hokey and tension-breaking moments, especially with the skeptical cop and “ghost-hunting” assistant.

--SHOULDA interviewed the young adults in my theater! They were cracking jokes and talking quietly during most of it. Were they scared? Skeptical? Did they think movie was cheesy? Had they seen better, scarier? What did they think of the film? [I think they WERE scared. The girls kept jumping in their seats.] After the film, they turned around, and, on seeing a nun in the last row were kinda transfixed like: OMGosh is this for real?! Is she a nun-specter? I am grateful for their fidgeting ‘cause it made me way less freaked out. Also, Ma kept dropping her water bottle which was a good distraction.

--I kept reaching over to Ma: “Are you OK, are you scared?” Ma: “Ha ha. Of course not. But this music is TOO LOUD!” [covers ears, drops water bottle] And later: "I'm sorry I had to learn about these things."

--The Malaysian director, James Wan, did two of the “Saw” installations. Yuck. He also did "Insidious" cuz he wanted to prove he could scare without gore. Well, he definitely can.

--ALL the horror tropes! Creaking doors and floors; knocking/banging [our quaint Boston cinema had an old wooden door that was making weird noises all during the film]; bogeyman behind the door; haunted Narnia-style wardrobes; bells and chimes tinkling; voices; grotesque dolls; animals see stuff people don’t; remote, dilapidated, old house; creepy cellars [I totally made Ma come to the cellar with me to do laundry after the movie]. A word about Boston "cinemas." Some of them (in the 'burbs) are ridiculous. They look like something Longfellow would have frequented. Some--in wealthy 'burbs actually have loose wooden folding chairs in re-purposed spaces--not built as cinemas. (See Lexington and Belmont.) And forget about decent technology.

--OK. At a certain point I’m like: “GET THE SAM HILL OUT OF THE BLESSED, I MEAN CURSED HOUSE! What?!  You’re too poor too move? Well, are ya too poor to be DEAD? Really? You’re still SLEEPING WITH YOUR KIDS IN THIS HOUSE? And you’re actually SLEEPING?” Did NOT suspend disbelief at these moments.

--The “thing” is incredibly HATEFUL. Yup. That’s about right.

--The camera is wonderfully fluid as it moves around the marvelously rambling and spacious old house.

--The set and props are so right on. Back in the day, I had a bathrobe exactly like one of the Perron girls.

--The only actor not up to snuff was the Dad (Ron Livingston). Way too detached. Earnest eyebrows. Does humble/ordinary rather well, but not Dad or hubby.

--Some of the actors already have other horror movies under their belts.

--SORTA SPOILER: Seemed like way too many hideous episodes connected with this one house going back in history.

--DEFINITE SPOILER: Were there any REAL Salem witches? One figures into the story.

--Witches is real and is bad people.

--Witches is women.

--“It” really is all about women. Satan always attacks “the woman.”

--“God entrusts women with the new person in special way.” –BJP2G “On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman”

--Now I really have to see “Mama,” a critically-acclaimed, “old-fashioned ghost story” (2013) starring Jessica Chastain. It, too, is about motherhood.


Fascinating article from "Entertainment Weekly" about the real goings on. Seems the film IS pretty faithful to the reality: http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20717859,00.html


  1. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Great review! Do you have a youtube channel?

    1. Yes. It's pretty lame: "HELENA BURNS"
      Here's my one and only video movie review ever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr5AJHPppDw

  2. Great review! The filmmakers are indeed Christians of some non-Cathlic sort, I've seen headlines from some interviews with them (things like "our faith made us make this movie") but did not read them. The demon-fighting couple are the same of Amityville Horror fame, if you believe that one (I don't but many people do).

  3. Hey Gail,
    Good to know. I try not to investigate this stuff too much! ha ha ha

  4. Mama is very very scary!

  5. LauLiz11:27 AM

    After viewing "The Conjuring," will never play "Hide & Go Seek," with a blindfold on, or peek into any dark closets,Yikes.. They did a good job in their portrayal of the early 70's with the color palete,hairstyles,cars,household items(had the same step stool in my home) and wore the "modified," Bell Bottoms, myself. The ensemble cast blended nicely together. Film harkened back for me to "The Exorcist & "Amityville Horror," of course with new updated high tech techniques. And the Best was saved for last, compared it to going through a "Wringer," at the finale!


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  8. Great ! Do you have a youtube channel?

  9. Hello Helena, this is a great review. Thank you for your review