So I Married a Demonologist

"The Conjuring 2" makes a worthy effort at being a great exorcist movie, but it succumbs to flaws common to many such films.

MPAA Rating: R
USCCB Rating:A-III
Reel Rating: (3 out of 5 reels)

It’s unfortunate that there has never been a truly great exorcist movie (for the record, I consider The Exorcist to be a good, but flawed, movie.) The Conjuring 2 makes a worthy effort; it is certainly better than most but still falls short, though in ways different from its predecessor. As a representation of deliverance ministry it makes some intriguing observations and does nothing to undermine the faith. Yet, it also surrenders with complete abandon to common misunderstandings of the subject to serve its narrative, similar to the angel-man Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life. Only this time, it’s a demon in a nun costume.

Six years after their encounter with the Perron family, spiritual detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) have crossed the Atlantic to examine a series of paranormal events in a working class London flat, home to Peggy Hodgeson and her four children. Lorraine is hesitant at first after a series of terrifying visions that she interprets as omens of death for her husband, but eventually agrees to visit “only to observe and report.” “We have to help if we can,” her husband says with a smile.

Unlike the previous case, which was fairly obvious, director James Wan focuses on the details of the investigation. Can the Warrens proved there are demonic forces at work? This process includes skeptics, like Anita Gregory (Franka Potente), who manages to film one of the teenagers faking a poltergeist. This is unusual for a story in this genre but wonderfully fitting. Real exorcists are trained in this mindset and should be “the last one to believe the case is possession.” While the audience is always aware of the truth, it takes the Warrens much longer. Yet as the film reaches its climax, a huge twist in the narrative is reveled which on the surfaces seems ridiculous but still has me thinking about it days later.

Surprisingly, the best aspect of The Conjuring 2 is not the special effects or the intelligent directing but a strong affirmation of the spiritual power of sacramental marriage. It is rare to see a film depict romance between a man and woman who are already married, nearly unheard of in a horror movie. Midway through the film, Lorraine speaks to Janet, the afflicted teenage girl at the center of the activity. She is scared, shy, and feels desperately alone. “No one believes me,” she says. “No one believed me either when I saw things,” Lorraine replies. “Then I found someone who did.” “What did you do then,” she asks. Lorraine smiles. “I married him.” The Warrens are able withstand such tremendous evil because their strength comes from a covenant relationship that puts God at the center of their lives. This is the opposite of the Hodgeson family, whose father recently left them for his mistress. It is even implied that Janet and her sister got involved in the occult because of his absence

While the Warrens’ greatest strength is their marriage, it is also a key reason there are virtually no lay demonologists. In fact, apart for the Warrens, I cannot think of a single other example. The reason is that families especially are prone to attack. Lorraine’s love for Ed makes him as easy target for manipulation. In addition, laymen cannot legitimately perform exorcisms or even blessings—although such actions are constantly portrayed in both films.

The primary benefit of The Conjuring 2, even if far overdramatized and with plenty of theological holes, is that it demonstrates the reality of evil. In a world filled with tremendous cruelty, man needs art that strengthens faith. Yet The Conjuring 2, and every other exorcist movie, goes only part of the way—it shows the evil but not the redemption. Yes, the demon is expelled and God is credited with the win, but the demon is graphically depicted with special effects, sound design, and constant manifestations while God seems silent. It would do well for such a film to allow Heavenly glory to be depicted in even more splendor.

As a work of cinematic entertainment, The Conjuring rises slightly above the rest, confident in its skill but hesitant to reach for anything extraordinary. The exact nature of force that afflicts Hodgeson family is unclear—a ghost? a demon? or both? Yet a story that leads the viewer from apathy to pondering is a good thing, and a film that could keep away men from the occult and encourage good marriages is a really good thing.

About Nick Olszyk 87 Articles
Nick Olszyk is Chair of the Department of Religion at Cornelia Connelly School in Anaheim, CA. He has directed several short films and is the new father of the aptly named Nick Jr. He was raised on bad science movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.