It was a hot and stormy night. Actually it was hot and dry, having hit almost 100 degrees in our little mountain town in Colorado. Since we do not have air conditioning, my wife and I did something we rarely do: we went to the movies.
There we watched the latest incarnation of the semi-fictional adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the original ghost hunters.
The Conjuring 2 follows up where the commercially successful original left off (The Conjuring). Since the sequel will probably be a summer box-office smash, the two will soon be a cinema franchise. Watch for the Conjuring 3 coming soon to a theater near you.
But back to our movie. A rollicking, scary, funhouse summer flick to be sure; the kind we boys used to take our high school girlfriends to for lots of clingy hugs.
SARCASM ALERT! When I get especially critical, I tend to drip sarcasm, so please forgive me if some splatters on this page. I just can’t help myself.
The plot is based on the “true” paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who back in the late 70’s allegedly looked into the haunting of a flat in London (the Enfield Haunting). It was occupied by a recently-single mom and her brood of kids, including one otherwise charming pre-teen girl who became the spokesperson for the unseen entity also sharing their quarters.
The girl is well-played by Madison Wolfe; the semi-hysterical mom also well done by Frances O’Connor. Both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine. She could probably play an absolutely perfect angel if the right role came along, but I can’t vouch for Wilson’s inexplicable Elvis imitation somewhere around mid-film, even though I have to assume it was in-character for Ed Warren.
Anyway, to cut to the proverbial chase . . . the young girl character draws heavily on the female star of the 1973 release of The Exorcist, only unlike that girl, this time the possessed was up and out of bed while running around causing all kinds of mischief. Ed and Lorraine dutifully chase her (“it”) like some civilian geek squad on assignment from “the Church” that wouldn’t get itself officially involved. In the predictable end, the geek squad wins and the evil is vanquished.
Conjuring 2 is not a bad movie, but its also not a ghost movie. It is a demon movie (and not about a poltergeist, as the entity is commonly referred to). So don’t expect scary ghosts. It has instead more than the usual number of jumps and startles substituting for a dramatic build-up of genuine fear, and the setting of the house is artfully scary– what one would expect for a not-so-quiet demon who likes to party.
I concede that this movie was not made for aging paranormal investigators like ourselves; its aimed squarely at the 18 to 34 demographic. They will probably like it. But for us fully-formed (for better or worse) adults in the room, it is as they say “what it is.” What is instructive about it is the more valuable lesson for types like us. Its the distinction between “horror” and “supernatural” stories, with Conjuring 2 being an excellent example of the former.
What is true horror? Its like pornography: you know it when you see it. But instead of sexual arousal, horror causes sudden emotional stimulation characterized by fear, loathing, and an adrenalin rush that energizes a flight or fight response. Was the Exorcist horror or supernatural? When I first saw it in a theater, I witnessed grown men get up and run out of the place! But I read the novel before I ever saw the motion picture . . . I couldn’t sleep the first few nights– too scared. My opinion: definitely Horror/Supernatural for the movie; Supernatural/Psychological for the book.
To be real Horror with a capital H, a story has to exploit your primal fear at its most basic level. Not just ghost stories like the kind that scare you but don’t necessarily horrify you. Horror is visceral– biological/conscious jump-up and run away before you die fear. Supernatural is cerebral– the more subtle psychological/subconscious keep-you-up-at-night or have nightmares fear.
Beyond film genres and the depiction of the Warrens and their paranormal adventures, its also worth mentioning their real-life background. Why? Because they are yet having an influence on the minds of a far younger generation on a hot weekend in 2016.
Ed Warren (who died a few years ago) was a self-proclaimed demonologist. His wife Lorraine is a medium and joined her husband in the early 50’s as investigators of the paranormal. They were trailblazers, among if not the first to use tape recorders and other electronics of the day to scientifically measure such phenomena. Unfortunately, they had a built-in bias. They were devout Christians, and believed that all paranormal events were the result of diabolical forces.
I don’t have to criticize a major religion for its paranormal beliefs, as its a fact that in the Catholic Church for example, that belief is dogma. The priests in the Exorcist were of course Catholic, and admirably performed their duties in casting out the devil from its possession of a young girl (based on a true story). Where the Catholic Church goes awry in my opinion is its continuing insistence that ordinary ghosts are also the result of diabolical causes. They are not in most cases, which I can attest to from my own experience and most of those of my cohorts with only some rare exceptions.
I understand this misguided doctrine. I grew up Catholic, but left its confines many years ago due to other differences with its belief structure. But let’s get back to the movies about the Warrens . . . both foster the belief that Satan is behind hauntings, and that is just not the case. That belief makes for more dramatic stories and can appeal to one’s inner religious child, but scaring grown adults into a given belief is exactly why I left that institution.
What we call “ghosts” today are the manifestations of dead people living their perfectly normal afterlives. They include those existing along either margin of the border to the Other Side as ghosts (earthbound spirits), or freed spirits who’ve successfully crossed over and are just visiting. Whoever else is lurking along the interdimensional boundary between life and death I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain that they rarely include demons. Somewhere they may indeed exist to lead us into temptation and drag us screaming into hell, but they’re unlikely tenants of the average haunted house.
(Read another opinion on the story’s credibility)
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