With the release of Annabelle: Creation (2017) right around the corner, a reflection upon The Conjuring universe that James Wan unexpectedly birthed in 2013 seemed appropriate. The critically acclaimed horror phenomenon and box office beast known as The Conjuring (2013) not only gave film fans a new property to gush over, it breathed new life into a genre that was on its death bed. The track record for recent horror films prior to The Conjuring wasn’t that great and became gimmicky and tired pretty quick.
What Oren Peli was able to do with Paranormal Activity (2007) was remarkable in the sense that he had revitalized the found-footage style. Paranormal Activity was a genuine scare-fest that deserved all of the praise it got at the time. It was a financial and critical success, rightfully warranting a future franchise. However, its massive success unfortunately became its downfall because that franchise lasted about three movies too long, inspiring enough filmmakers to the point where found-footage sadly became the horror golden standard. There was no originality in horror anymore and that became problematic because it turned the genre into somewhat of a joke. The films we were getting were lazy and forgettable.
Thankfully for film fans like us who appreciate originality and risks, director James Wan sought out to break the cycle. Along with the screenplay talents of Chad and Carey W. Hayes, Wan was able to adapt stories from actual paranormal investigators (Ed and Lorraine Warren), who are portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, and create the horror phenomenon known as The Conjuring. Not only was the film financially successful, it proved that with creative filmmaking, horror could be smart and terrifying at the same time. As expected, its success warranted a sequel and soon enough, a cinematic universe that I refer to as, “The Conjuring-Verse.”
With a third Conjuring movie on the way, The Nun (2018) in development and Annabelle: Creation only a couple days away, I’ve provided a personal ranking for the three Conjuring-Verse films that have been released so far:
4: ANNABELLE (2014) – Director: John R. Leonetti
Worldwide Box Office Gross – $256.8M / Domestic Box Office Gross – $84.2M
CINEMA NINJA FINAL SCORE: D
When you have the same guy who directed Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) and The Butterfly Effect 2 (2006) in charge of your movie, not too much good will come from it. To bounce off of the success that The Conjuring spawned, Warner Bros. green-lit a Conjuring spinoff revolving around the origins of the creepy, possessed Annabelle doll that was introduced in The Conjuring. The pitch looked good on paper, but the execution fell flat on its face. This movie is dull, predictable and contains poorly developed characters who you’ll forget about as soon as the end-credits begin to roll.
There are a few scares spread throughout the film that gets the job done, but the build up towards them backpedal on what made The Conjuring so special in the first place. Wan is a master of building tension and rewarding audiences with worthy payoffs that strike genuine terror into your soul. His flavor is definitely missed in this film as Leonetti instead relies on horror clichés that the audience could predict from a mile away. There’s no real threat in this film, and by the time things start happening (which is about an hour and 30 minutes too late), you won’t care.
Perhaps the best thing this movie birthed was the fact that the Annabelle doll deserves a righteous origin story; hence why Annabelle Creation (directed by David F. Sandberg) is on the way. And from early reviews, seems to be the movie we should have gotten in 2014.
3. Annabelle: Creation (2017) – Director: David F. Sandberg
Worldwide Box Office Gross – $306.5M / Domestic Box Office Gross – $102M
CINEMA NINJA FINAL SCORE: B+
In 2017, director David F. Sandberg stepped in to replace John R. Leonetti and announced this sequel to actually serve as a prequel to the Annabelle story. To almost right the wrongs that Leonetti made in 2014, Sandberg was able to take Gary Dauberman’s script and create a clever, genuinely terrifying successor worthy to be placed in The Conjuring’s shared universe. Annabelle: Creation is an intense thrill-ride that’s full of tension and horrifying imagery that will surely haunt your dreams for weeks.
Much like James Wan’s two Conjuring films, one of the strongest elements that drives Creation‘s narrative is performance. Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson carry the emotional weight and are the stars of this story. Their smooth chemistry, which forms this genuine sister-like bond, carries them throughout the film’s duration, giving them plenty of opportunities to get you emotionally invested. You’re not going to want anything harmful to happen to these kids, making the impending terror that looms around every corner hit much more harder than it should. It’s one of the most important factors that has to connect in order to make the terror work and Sandberg utilizes all of the toys in his toolbox to do so.
Another one of the most impressive feats that the Conjuring films have achieved thus far comes from the utilization of its R-rating. The terror doesn’t come from the blood and gore, it comes from the cinematography and storytelling, which leads into the imagery that causes the genuine fear. Sandberg, much like Wan, utilizes sound, practicality and lighting to build tension and create illusions. One sequence in particular happens in broad daylight and it serves as one of the more disturbing scenes in the entire film. He knows that our imagination is capable of much worse than what he could show and that idea is what makes Creation a joy to watch (if horror is your thing).
2: The Conjuring 2 (2016) – Director: James Wan
Worldwide Box Office Gross – $320.2M / Domestic Box Office Gross – $102.4M
CINEMA NINJA FINAL SCORE: B+
The sequel to Wan’s 2013 hit proved to be worthy and just as intense as the first go-around. The film yet again follows the Warrens as they travel to England to assist a family who are experiencing poltergeist activity in their home. What follows is a 2-hour thrill ride that conjures genuine fear and suspense. This is due to brilliant writing and masterful direction from the Hayes brothers and Wan.
The character performances are what drive this movie; putting you right along with the action, making you care about everything that’s happening on the screen. There are the occasional jump scares here and there, but what separates these jump scares from others is that they don’t feel cheap. Everything is earned. As mentioned before, Wan has mastered the art of building tension and it’s on full display with The Conjuring 2.
Along with clever cinematography work from Don Burgess, Wan proves that you can create a fresh horror sequel that lives in the same universe. The story of the Warrens feels grounded in a movie where demons are manifesting into your worst nightmare, and that’s important because this movie could have easily become something simply put out there to scare you, visually. Instead, Wan focuses on character development and storytelling and one of the biggest takeaways you’ll have from this film (besides the terror) is the journey. Not only for this movie, but for the Warrens as a family and where they’ll be headed next.
1: The Conjuring (2013) – Director: James Wan
Worldwide Box Office Gross – $318M / Domestic Box Office Gross – $137M
CINEMA NINJA FINAL SCORE: A
Not much needs to be said about this movie other than the fact that it’s proof that James Wan is a master of his craft. With The Conjuring, he proved that horror movies can be original, frightening and smart. The film follows Ed and Lorraine Warren (a married couple who happen to be paranormal investigators) who assist a family experiencing demonic hauntings at their Rhode Island farmhouse. Some might consider it to be a slow burn in the beginning, but every plot device ultimately serves its purpose for a climax that is downright bone-chilling.
One of the most impressive goals that this movie hits comes from its R-rating. There’s not an abundance of blood, sex or language to warrant the R-rating, it’s simply earned through terror – and that’s telling. The story that Wan builds is genuinely disturbing and intense to the point where it’s almost uncomfortable to watch (in the best way possible). This is due to brilliant performances across the board that make you believe there’s an actual demon out there terrorizing this poor family.
Aside from a brilliant narrative, the scares that come from this film is what stands out. There’s no over-saturation of CGI, just practical imagery (for the most part). In an age where it’s very easy to rely on computers to work your magic, Wan instead relies on the power of storytelling and slowly builds up terror as the movie progresses. This terror ultimately reaches its culmination in the final act where you get to see the demon unveil its true power and it is horrifying in the most pleasurable way.
The Conjuring is horror at its finest.