‘The fairy tale is true. Evil exists. God exists.’

Exclusive: Drew Zahn reviews ‘true story’ terror flick ‘The Conjuring’


The title of this column is part of a quote taken from the end of “The Conjuring,” a truly terrifying, old-school horror movie reportedly based on a true story.

Beginning in the 1950s, the real-life couple Ed and Lorraine Warren began a decades-long career of investigating thousands of hauntings and other supernatural events in New England, including the famous and controversial Amityville haunting, of which multiple books and movies have been made.

But according to “The Conjuring,” their worst case, the most terrifying and demonic, has been kept under wraps … until now.

The movie is based on the Perron family, who moved to Harrisville, R.I., in 1971 and have since come forward to affirm at least the general gist of “The Conjuring” as a true story.

What makes “The Conjuring” intriguing is that is isn’t just a haunted house ghost story. In fact, throughout the film, the Warren characters reveal most “hauntings” are nothing more than hoaxes, old pipes, drafts or creaky wood.

Furthermore, they insist, “ghosts,” if such things exist, don’t possess “the power” to do many of the things to which they are credited. Instead, they insist, the whole “ghost” line is a lie. A lie told by demons. And the demons are real.

“Demonic spirits don’t possess things, the Warrens explain, “they possess people. It wanted to get inside of you.”

I have to admit, I was impressed. It makes it sound like the Warrens know what they’re talking about.

Let’s take a break for just a moment from the reality that this is a movie and one even the Perrons admit was fictionalized for effect at times. And let’s set aside the reality that the Warrens in real life may be a bit off-kilter, particularly in the more widely criticized Amityville case.

The “reality” is that the Perrons believe something supernatural happened in that house in Rhode Island, and by the movie’s description, it doesn’t look like an old-fashioned ghost story; it looks like a biblical example of possession.

And the Bible, where it has very little to say on the topic of ghosts, is perfectly clear on what it says about demons – how they operate, why they operate and how they’re defeated. And “The Conjuring,” especially for a glamorized Hollywood movie, does a remarkable job of following the biblical script.

Yes, it’s just a movie.

And yes, it’s based on the files of a couple whose stories and theology I wouldn’t trust to help me out of a paper bag.

But “The Conjuring” will grab the attention of a generation of moviegoers, will be surprisingly popular and will be tops at the box office despite facing competition from three other major films released the same weekend – big-budget, big-star, blockbuster summer films are all released at the same time, and “The Conjuring” will still smoke them all.

For after the credits roll and popcorn is cleaned up, America as a nation is still divided most significantly, not by Republican and Democrat or black and white, but between two worldviews: one that refuses to believe in the supernatural and one that’s open to considering it; one that demands all the cosmos is a galactic accident of evolution and one that sees the hand of at least some kind of creator; one that pretends it is based only on empirical evidence and one that’s willing to consider something greater; one that refuses any form of deity and one that is open to the existence of God.

It’s not “cool” in today’s popular society to admit you’re on the supernatural side of that divide, but every poll taken in private reveals the overwhelming majority of Americans are there. We’re still a nation that believes life is not just the sum total of lifeless electrical charges formed into atoms and molecules.

Which is why movies like “The Conjuring” are so captivating. Not just because of good acting, directing, writing, music and story – of which “The Conjuring” has plenty, a very solid and very scary film – but because if we’re willing to admit the supernatural exists, then we have to recognize the supernatural may not all be benevolent. Some of it may be evil. And that scares the bejeebers out of us.

Before we too quickly walk away from this “true story,” it behooves us to consider, who or what will protect us if our suspicions about the supernatural are right and “the fairy tale is true”?

Content advisory:

  • “The Conjuring” is rated R, not for language, sexuality or even excessive violence, but for sheer terror. The film contains fewer than 20 profanities and obscenities, and those are mostly minor.
  • The film contains very little sexuality and no nudity. A few flirtatious innuendos are shared between married couples, sex is implied off screen and a couple shares a kiss.
  • Violence in the film is a tricky subject. Yes, there is some blood and gore, mutilated corpses and crashes and wounds and fighting. But this is not a slasher flick. Nobody gets hacked to bits. No gory deaths. The terror is in spookiness and jump scenes, not violent murders.
  • The film’s premise and development are explicitly religious and occult in nature. It’s about people and their faith, or lack thereof, fighting against demons. Crucifixes, Catholic rites in Latin, holy water and other symbols are utilized. And while much of the story mirrors biblical concepts, I still recommend extreme caution, as the film depicts the manner and objects through which some characters literally invite demonic possession. I would not recommend going into this film without the supernatural protection of the blood of Christ over heart, mind and soul.