The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
A few days before seeing The Conjuring, the R-rated horror movie that became a bona fide blockbuster in its opening weekend, I happened to read Acts 19. In that chapter, a group of Jews attempt to cast a demon from a possessed man in the name of “the Jesus that Paul preaches.” Speaking through the man’s voice, the demon answers, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” The spirit then empowers the man to single-handedly beat all seven frauds until they are bloody, naked, and fleeing for their lives.
Quite a harrowing (and cinematic) scene. And from it, as well as other biblical references to evil spirits, we can gather that God must want us to consider the existence and operation of demons to at least some degree. The question is, how much, how intensely? The Conjuring, which was specially marketed to Christians, considers it intensely indeed.
Ostensibly based on a case file of real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the story makes an unabashed argument that demons exist and that Christ alone offers protection from them. “We aren’t a churchgoing family,” the father of a newly purchased haunted house says to Ed after he calls on the Warrens for help. “You might want to rethink that,” Ed replies.
But the film’s theology is all over the map. Early on, Ed correctly asserts that demons are not the ghosts of deceased people, but inhuman powers. Yet the plot revolves around the malice of a long-dead “witch.” Likewise, after the Warrens explain that inanimate objects can’t be possessed, only individuals, they reveal a room where they lock up the world’s creepiest doll, as well other occult bric-a-brac.
Though there is virtually no blood until the climactic scene and only a handful of profanities are uttered, thanks to one character’s realistic-seeming possession, the film is blood-chilling and easily as terrifying, if not more so, than classic ’70s horrors like The Exorcist. Director Jason Wan is a master at the unexpected jolt. Yet the movie’s depiction of Satanic influence seems closer to fascination than warning. Perhaps, as the screenwriters have argued, illustrating evil (even inaccurately) will drive some viewers to reflect on the power that has conquered the darkness. More likely, it will only encourage them to reflect on the darkness.