Whenever I watch a movie, I always think one thing at the end: Can I write about it here? When I had finished The Conjuring, the answer was a clear “No”. It’s a good horror film, less special than I had expected after hearing so much about it. It is scary at times and relentless at trying to scare you (and more effective than the incredibly similar Insidious), but there is not much that hasn’t been seen before. The camera work is creative (or inspired), using many techniques to surprise the viewer from long takes to Vertigo shots. There just aren’t many surprises in the script as the plot goes mostly where you’d expect it to be. That were my thoughts at the end and that was it. Then I read some reviews and stumbled upon Andrew O’Hehir’s review on Salon.com which calls the movie the “most effective right-wing Christian films of recent years” and parts of it “reprehensible and inexcusable bullshit.” What’s going on here?
The arguments O’Hehir makes seem like they fit here. He argues the film is misogynist because it portrays women as the source of evil because it is a female spirit that occupies mothers so they will kill their children, reinforcing fears about mothers and women in general. On top of that, the movie suggests that the women who were murdered in 1692 in the Salem witchcraft actually were witches (which O’Hehir compares to claiming “slavery was OK or that the Holocaust didn’t happen”). Finally, in his point of view the movie promotes Christianity, faulting the family in the movie for not being baptized and asking the viewer indirectly to follow god and not be skeptical. Those are some strong statements (and the comment section is expectedly outraged).
I can partially agree with him, but the fact that I didn’t think of any of this, although I specifically look for these things in any movie, makes me wonder if maybe O’Hehir does go a bit too far. I agree that portraying women as the source of evil is one of those long accepted tropes that seem too normal for us to question them anymore and any movie that uses them reinforces them. And The Conjuring uses only women as scary ghosts, in the end putting children in danger because of their mother. I caught the Salem reference, but didn’t think about it and even now, while it’s a bit stupid, it’s not as bad as O’Hehir claims, mainly because it is such an unimportant detail in the movie. It’s unnecessary but opposed to him I can file it under “poetic license.”
I was really bothered by the Christian advertising, especially that final quote by Ed Warren that was shown to the audience and really suggests there is only an either/or decision between good or evil and that anyone who doesn’t believe in god or is skeptical, strengthens evil. That is a terribly awful thing to suggest and discredits a lot of what the movie is trying to do. I can live with exorcism movies that have to work with god to fight evil, just because this is their choice of portraying this battle, this quote goes many steps further and makes all the Christian references in the movie look more malevolent. To me, this is truly inexcusable bullshit.
I understand O’Hehir’s sentiment because obviously I can get pretty worked up about moviesthatsupposedlyjustwanttobeentertainment, but I just don’t see it as strongly here. The Conjuring is a scary movie that uses some unfortunate tropes and makes some stupid choices along its way, but if you laugh off the attempted baptism, you still can have a good time, even if you’re not as bothered as I was by its conventionalism. Which, by the way, O’Hehir seems to agree with, calling it an “entertaining but indefensible movie.”