Ten years ago, James Wan opened up the case files of the controversial Warrens and made movie magic and horror history with “The Conjuring”.
On July 19th, 2013, the world was introduced to The Conjuring. The film was directed by James Wan and written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes, and it featured the alleged true story lifted directly from the case files of the Warrens.
Ed and Lorraine Warren were married paranormal investigators who became famous after they investigated the Amityville case. The Conjuring made their names even more well-known to modern horror fans and turned them into bonified horror icons.
As of writing, The Conjuring series has seven films, including three mainline entries and four spinoffs. But the first film, released ten years ago on July 13, 2013, is considered a modern classic and is heavily responsible for the horror renaissance we enjoy today.
The film stars Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren and Vera Farmiga as Lorraine.
The plot follows the real case of the Perron family. In 1971, the Perrons moved into a farmhouse in Harrisville. Before long, they realized they did not live in the house alone. There were supposedly spirits in the house who wanted the Perrons gone. They would even occasionally cause physical harm to the family.
The Warrens were hired to investigate and eventually helped the Perrons rid themselves of the spirits that tormented them.
As with any paranormal tale, there will be skeptics. But for the Perrons, this nightmare was all too real. Although Ed Warren died in 2006 before the film could be made, Lorraine (then 86 years old) was a consultant on the film and remained an active paranormal investigator. She insisted that many of the movie’s harrowing moments actually happened.
Andrea Perron, the oldest of the five Perron girls (then 54 years old), praised the film upon its release, calling it “a beautiful tapestry” with “many elements of truth to it, and some moments of fiction.”
But haunted house tales, even ones based on supposedly true events, are nothing new. So what is it exactly that makes The Conjuring so special?
On the surface, it seems like any other run-of-the-mill ghost story, but one watch makes it clear why the film enjoyed such phenomenal success.
One key reason is the Perrons themselves — consisting of Roger and Carolyn Perron (played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters.
Shanley Caswell played Andrea, the first-born daughter of Roger and Carolyn; Hayley McFarland played Nancy, the second-born daughter; Joey King played Christine, the middle child; Mackenzie Foy played Cindy, the fourth-born daughter; and Kyla Deaver played the youngest child, April.
The Perron family is all likable in their own way. From the way they act to the way they talk to each other, they seem like a real family.
Audiences know what is going to happen to the family. Even if they aren’t familiar with the true story, they know going in that the family finds itself tormented by terrifying spirits in the home. But even though we expect it, it doesn’t make it any easier to witness as the family begins to suffer emotionally and physically at the hands of the unseen entity.
Another aspect that carries the film is the Warrens. Wilson and Farmiga are so natural in their performances. They never overact and truly feel like a married couple with deep affection for one another. It is hard to imagine any other performances in the roles.
Even moviegoers who may not have much affection for the real-life Warrens, or those who don’t buy into their paranormal claims, likely have a hard time not being charmed by their cinematic counterparts. It’s difficult not to invest in them and care about their plight.
The Warrens may have been real people, but it is difficult not to picture Wilson and Farmiga when reading about Ed and Lorraine. The real Lorraine even claimed that the actors were dead ringers for the young versions of her and her departed husband.
Directing from a script that has been widely praised for its believability and spine-tingling chills, James Wan proved why he’s an absolute modern master of horror.
The Malaysia-born Australian film director, screenwriter, producer, and comic book writer had been known to horror fans for years, having helmed the breakout independent horror film Saw (2004) and created the iconic Billy the Puppet. Like The Conjuring, Saw also gave rise to a juggernaut film franchise (making Wan the first Asian director to have two films ake a billion dollars at the box office), as did his 2010 horror hit Insidious.
But, even with all of Wan’s wild success in the genre, The Conjuring surpassed it all to become the highest-grossing franchise at over $2 billion.
The fact that the film was inspired by a real-life incident certainly helped create a foreboding mood, and Wan masterfully amps up the atmosphere to maximize the frights. Even with a slowly unfolding story, it never gets dull, thanks to how wrought with tension the film is.
And it’s this effortless balance between genuine scares and believable, investing character drama that makes THE CONJURING such a standout in the genre.
While there are a number of jumpscares, they are earned and aren’t excessive. Nothing ever feels cheap or manipulative. Once the film really gets going, the audience is embroiled in a sense of dread and suspense that doesn’t leave until well after the credits begin to roll.
The atmosphere found in the film is something that should be studied. From the sets to the creature design, The Conjuring is just oozing with creepy imagery and unsettling moments.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the film has had such a lasting impact. But even Wan himself could never have imagined how far the franchise would go.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the director explained how a great shared universe was created from a movie in the best style of Marvel Studios. “It happened organically,” he said, “but in the back of our minds, we always knew that the Warrens investigated so many different cases and that they had a museum of haunted artifacts. So, even while working on the first movie, we would spitball ideas, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a spinoff movie or a TV series where we touch on the different haunted artifacts in their museum?”
He went on to explain, “And that was really how the idea for Annabelle (2014) came about. Annabelle is the crown jewel of the Warrens’ collection, and so a spinoff movie was a natural stepping stone. And after Annabelle became successful, we realized that The Conjuring could become the mothership to spawn other stories.”
The cursed doll that inspired the successful Annabelle spinoff has already spawned a trilogy. We also got a spinoff featuring the demonic nun Valek, with a sequel in production. A standalone film inspired by Mexican folklore, The Curse of La Llorona, was released in 2019. A planned spinoff featuring the terrifying Crooked Man from The Conjuring 2 was canceled but may see the light of day sometime in the future.
As it stands now, there are more Conjuring offshoots than films in the main franchise storyline, but the three Conjuring films are considered to be top-tier in terms of quality and legitimate scares.
The Conjuring 2 (2016) was a very well-received sequel, also directed by James Wan, that revolved around another Warren case — their most famous one. That one deals with the controversial case of the Enfield poltergeist while briefly referring to the events that inspired The Amityville Horror.
The third film in the franchise, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021), was the first to be directed by someone other than Wan. For that film (written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick), Michael Chaves took the reigns to tell a story about the early-80s trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who claimed the devil made him kill his landlord. A fourth film has been announced with the working title of The Conjuring: Last Rites. But no release date has been announced, and we probably shouldn’t expect it any time soon.
Wan has hinted that this may be the final Conjuring movie and could wrap up the Warrens’ story.
Regardless of where the franchise goes from here, there’s no doubting the impact it has made and will continue to make on the genre.
Even today, The Conjuring is frequently mentioned when discussing great horror movies. The film is only ten years old, but it already has a legacy of a film twice that old.