‘The Conjuring’ Franchise takes a page from Marvel
How a connected universe has made the world of 'The Conjuring' successful.
With the popularization of a connected universe, fans of a series are able to feel a sense of familiarity with each varying project. This has now bled into the horror genre as The Conjuring franchise is set to release its latest addition on September 6th—titled The Nun. Originating in The Conjuring 2 (2016), and again appearing in a post-credits scene of Annabelle: Creation (2017), The Nun (2018) is centered around a demon named Valak who terrorizes the Warrens and disguises itself in the form of, you guessed it, a nun. The idea of a cross-breeding films is one that the Marvel Universe has perfected and popularized, and in a way, The Conjuring‘s set of films and demons act as the horror genre’s “Avengers.” The base of the film takes place in the world of The Warren’s who are famous ghost hunters that have taken on famous hauntings from The Amityville Horror to The Enfield Poltergeist. While the spin-offs are partial origin stories for each select antagonist, the films are all connected and fit into their own specific place in the universe timeline.
Starting with the original Conjuring film, we are introduced to the first of the “horror Avengers” with Annabelle, a doll that is possessed by an evil entity and takes aim at the Warren’s daughter. There are multiple aspects as to why The Conjuring franchise has garnered so much popularity—the first is that the films are based on true stories/cases; and the second is the connectedness that all of the films share. James Wan, director and writer of the original Conjuring film, knew that the world of the Warrens was primed for a plethora of interesting stories and a chance to make a connected universe stating, “One of the things that occurred to all of us is, they have a superhero universe, why can’t we do that in the horror world?”
The Conjuring released in 2013 to critical praise for making a good old-fashioned ghost story scary again. In the film, a demon terrorizes a family on a farmhouse in Rhode Island, and the Warrens seek to stop the haunting. During the film, Lorraine Warren, played by Vera Farmiga, uses her psychic abilities to both battle the demon and make her own personal connection to it. It is in this connection that we are first introduced to Annabelle, a doll that the entity attaches itself to in order to go after the Warren’s daughter. The film is eventually resolved, and Annabelle is contained to the Warren’s personal room of totems that represent each case. Annabelle is based on an actual Raggedy Anne doll that was said to be possessed, which makes the film even more terrifying. In the scope of the universe timeline, The Conjuring follows the real life of the Warrens taking place in 1971.
Soon after the film’s release, we were given the first spin-off of the Conjuring universe, Annabelle (2014). The film takes place in the tail end of the Manson era in 1970, a year before the events of The Conjuring as a family battles the familiar entity after their newborn baby. While the film is often regarded as the worst of the Conjuring franchise films, it did launch the connected universe of the films, as well as pave the road for the upcoming releases—including The Nun (2018). The vision of the connected films was a vision from the beginning, and after the success and popularity of the first film, a story following Annabelle was the next logical step. After the first Annabelle spin-off, we were given the next addition that helped to familiarize audiences with Valak, The Conjuring 2 (2016). In relation to the Marvel Universe, it is essentially the technique they used to introduce Black Panther to viewers in Civil War before his own standalone film.
The Conjuring 2 (2016) is centered around the famed Enfield hauntings in England, but the real star of the show is Valak who takes the form of the nun. The film sees another family battle an entity that seeks to possess their children (taking place in 1977, the latest time period the franchise has seen), but again the psychic abilities of Lorraine Warren is what draws the film to its true terror. The demon Valak is essentially after her husband’s life and appears in her dreams that manifest themselves into reality. While the film has some interesting additions, like The Crooked Man, the nun stole the show and launched the series’ next spin-off. The portrayal of Valak is based on a real demon, studied in the Lesser Key of Solomon, that describes the entity as the “high-president of hell.” While the character in the film shares little with its “true” demonic counterpart, the entity is actually based on a demon that supposedly followed and haunted Lorraine Warren in her real life. This accounts for why the demon is seen in so many of the universe films because rather than haunt a specific place, the demon has attached itself to her spirit and follows her in the other world; making her physic abilities the glue that holds the franchise’s universe together (logistically). Of course the filmmakers take some liberties with the character design, making the demon a more tangible source of fear and sticking with religious symbolism. However, the concept is rooted in reality, which is what makes the vision/scope of the Conjuring universe so spectacular.
Finally, we come to the latest addition to the universe, which comes in the form of “origin stories.” The second Annabelle film released, Annabelle: Creation (2017), which was directed by an upcoming horror auteur in David F. Sandberg of Lights Out (2016) fame that made the film a standout in the franchise. Acting as an origin of Annabelle, we see how the doll became possessed, and how it terrorizes its creator and a group of girls at an orphanage. The film has little to do with the Warren’s adventures, but because of the familiarity and appearances of the doll in the prior additions, the film fits right into the universe. Also, fitting into the timeline of the other films, the second Annabelle takes place in 1955; 15 years before the first Annabelle spin-off, which gives each film an added period piece of sorts as they attempt to match cultural similarities among the horror taking place. The ability to be varied in tone and presentation allows for the Conjuring universe to feature films that all sport a different approach by its filmmaker, while still making the audience feel familiar with the demon on screen. This variety has aided in the combat that often dooms horror franchises because of the lack of variety because who would want to see the Warrens battle a demon 15 times among the likes of later Jason films. Sticking with the theme of slowly introducing its characters to the viewer, Annabelle: Creation features a post-credits scene that again familiarizes the viewer with the nun. Can you guess what the next addition to the universe is?
The latest addition to the franchise is also an origin story that focuses on everybody’s favorite demonic nun. Going all the way back to 1955, the earliest period on the timeline of The Conjuring universe, the film takes place in Romania as a Vatican sent priest is forced to investigate the death of a young nun. The film looks markedly different from the prior films in the franchise, which I attribute to the extreme change in time period/setting. As the audience is now familiar with Valak, it makes sense that we are now being introduced to its origin and how it was introduced into the universe of the Warrens. It amazes me that Wan was able to create the universe so seamlessly, and introduce audiences into a world that is both varied and connected all in a period of just five years—being The Conjuring was released in 2013, and we’ve already seen five films added.
The variety of time period and locations keeps the films distinguishable amongst each other, and the recurring demons based in reality gives audiences the familiarity a connected universe is known for. The franchise is also giving relatively unknown directors a shot to create their own vision, which I appreciate. While not exactly similar in structure of the Marvel Universe, it is clear the films gave inspiration to create this world, as said by Wan himself. I wonder how long until this formula is no longer fresh, and what will happen to the world of the Warrens after that. Until then, I look forward to the next demon we are introduced to. Currently there are already two more films in the works that are set to be added into the connected universe: The Crooked Man, which is based off of an entity from The Conjuring 2; and The Conjuring 3, which follows the Warren’s pursuit of a demonic werewolf.
For now, check out The Nun, releasing on September 6th, for a look into the world of Valak.