Beliefs Culture

Can a horror film lead people to God?

A scene from the Conjuring with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Photo courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Brothers
A scene from the Conjuring with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Photo courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Brothers

A scene from “Tthe Conjuring” with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Photo courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Bros.

(RNS) The box office hit “The Conjuring” has all the requisite features of a standard horror flick: creaky doors, mysterious things that go bump in the night, creepy dolls and a dead witch who seizes the body of an unsuspecting mother.

It also has an unexpected background character for a horror film: God.

Filmmaker brothers Chad and Carey Hayes say their film isn’t your typical “Christian” movie fare, but it nonetheless carries a strong religious message that can appeal to faith-minded audiences.

It is, they say, a “wholesome horror film.”

Filmmaker brothers Chad and Carey Hayes say their film isn't your typical "Christian" movie fare, but it nonetheless carries a strong religious message that can appeal to faith-minded audiences. Photo courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Brothers

Filmmaker brothers Chad and Carey Hayes say their film isn’t your typical “Christian” movie fare, but it nonetheless carries a strong religious message that can appeal to faith-minded audiences. Photo courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Bros.

“The Conjuring” centers around the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair of ghost-hunting “consultants of demonic witchcraft.” In 1971, they were called to a 19th-century Rhode Island farmhouse where things had gotten downright spooky.

“To have two characters that were so strong in their faith, we didn’t have to preach it, we didn’t have to thump it, we just had to show it,” Carey Hayes said in an interview. “Their faith was the sharpest tool in their toolbox.”

Clocks stopped every night at 3:07 a.m. Unseen forces were tugging at the legs of the family’s five daughters as they slept. The family dog is found dead, and strange things are making scary noises in the dark and mysterious basement.

The Perron family seeks out the Warrens’ help when the ghosts make life unbearable. Armed with an array of cameras and recording equipment, the Warrens set out to identify and expel the evil spirit.

“Something awful happened here, Ed,” the clairvoyant Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga from “Up in the Air”) says to her husband.

A scene from The Conjuring in which Ed (Patrick Wilson) sets crosses and holy water. Photo courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Brothers

A scene from “The Conjuring” in which Ed (Patrick Wilson) sets up crosses and holy water for an exorcism. Photo courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Bros.

The Warrens pinpoint the demon of a witch connected to the Salem witch trials as the culprit, and recommend an exorcism. When a priest is unavailable, Ed Warren steps in to perform the rite himself, and it doesn’t sit well with the demon named Bathsheba, who hijacks the body and soul of the mother, Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor).

“God brought us together for a reason,” Lorraine assures her husband before the blood-curdling exorcism begins. “This is it.”

As far as horror films go, the $20 million “The Conjuring” is fairly tame. It’s more “The Blair Witch Project” than “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” And that’s what could help attract religious viewers who perhaps haven’t seen an R-rated film since the blood-soaked “The Passion of the Christ.”

“We wrote a film that doesn’t have any slashers, no gore, nobody gets killed,” Carey Hayes said.

“And no sex or foul language,” his twin brother Chad added.

That’s a recipe for box office gold, said Bobby Downes, president of EchoLight Studios, which is committed to making and distributing family-friendly Christian fare. In fact, he said, the horror genre is exactly where Christian filmmakers need to be.

“The gospel is sharing this idea that it can take only a small amount of light to dispel a whole lot of darkness,” said Downes, who was not involved in the film. “This is one avenue where we can powerfully communicate the gospel in a way that’s attractive. I don’t think we have to be limited by the genre.”

The Hayes brothers demurred when asked about the film’s faith-based marketing campaign, but Warner Bros. studios clearly has its eyes set on the Christian market: They brought in Grace Hill Media (whose earlier credits include work on “The Lord of the Rings” and “Man of Steel”) to help push the film to religious audiences.

It seems to have worked. “The Conjuring” took in a surprising $41 million in its opening weekend.

The Hayes brothers describe themselves as “Christians” without wanting to go into further labels or detail, and they’re convinced of the reality of demonic forces and spiritual warfare.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” Chad Hayes said, easily quoting from the New Testament Book of Ephesians.

“If you think about it, our movie fits all that.”

Film poster of "The Conjuring" courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Brothers

Film poster of “The Conjuring” courtesy Grace Hill Media/Warner Bros.

Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were devout Catholics, dedicated an entire room in their house to a collection of demon-possessed artifacts. They have reels and reels of film of real-life exorcisms, and there’s more than enough material for a sequel, the Hayes brothers said.

The film ends with an on-screen quote from Ed Warren, who died in 2006:

“Diabolical forces are formidable. These forces are eternal, and they exist today. The fairy tale is true. The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow.”

For their part, the brothers say it’s more than a bunch of Hollywood make-believe.

“We’re 100 percent aware of the reality that there is darkness and there is light,” Carey Hayes said. “We’ve seen it. We’ve witnessed it.”

“We’ve seen things,” Chad chimed in, “that I wish we never saw.”


About the author

Kevin Eckstrom

Kevin Eckstrom joined the Religion News Service staff in 2000 and became editor-in-chief in 2006.


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  • The answer to the question posed is “no”, if it has anything to do with spiritism or the occult, which is detestable to God and something we should avoid at all costs.

  • Perhaps not to God but to a particular right-wing version of Christianity?
    Here’s a quote and a link from a Salon review I found pretty persuasive:
    “The Conjuring” is an old-fashioned horror movie, almost old-fashioned to the point of meta-ness. I don’t just mean the 1970s setting, the haunted house in New England, the family under siege, the demonic possession, the pair of celebrity ghost-hunters and the Roman Catholic exorcism. I also mean the film’s deeply reactionary cultural politics, and the profound misogyny that lurks just beneath its surface. I don’t know how intentional this was on the part of the filmmakers – possibly not much – but “The Conjuring” is one of the cleverest and most effective right-wing Christian films of recent years.

  • In case the link doesn’t work, Salon article title: “The Conjuring”: Right-wing, woman-hating and really scary

  • I will say that if it does lead people to any sort of religious belief, it would be a pretty unwholesome one. It suggests quite casually that the women persecuted during the Salem Witch trials were actually satan-loving witches when all evidence is they were at least as Christian as any woman in their community. Also, it attributes an nearly omnipotent power to demonic forces that would actually be attractive to any budding young Satan worshipers out there. Finally, the truth of the supposed “haunting” is far more mundane and more likely to lead one to believe the Warrens were simply using scared and gullible families in a bid to promote their own fame and ideas about demonic entities lurking around every corner.

    As a work of FICTION, the film is very effective, but to suggest any of it was actually real goes far beyond simple artistic license and well into outright fabrication.

  • I remember when I saw “The Exorcist” when it first came out. I can tell you, many of us woke up and knew that the enemy of mankind, Satan is real and does more in this world behind the scenes then we might want to admit. Yes he demon can and do posess people.
    It sure cause a lot of us to run to or Father God’s arms. And others turned their life to him as well. With everything we have coming at us out of Hollywood or on the news, we have become desensitized. God can and will use whatever he chooses to wake us up. If it takes a movie like this, then the end result is worth it. We all have become so hardened, blind and deceived. I will take my teenager to see it.

  • I remember a borderline agnostic college student who was moved to investigate Christianity after he saw The Exorcist and began to consider the possibility of spiritual reality. (Having a Christian roommate helped.) He became a regular at Baptist Student Union meetings and before long was converted.

  • I know nothing about this particular film in question, but to answer the question posed by the headline, yes, I think so. I was a nonbeliever when I watched Constantine with my friends (it was their idea, I don’t like horror movies) and the powerful images of darkness and hell inspired in me to consider the reality of such things and to find safety for my soul. It was just a part of the process for me, but nonetheless a significant influence.

    One would be very wrong to base their theology on a film, but Constantine also touched upon the problem of avoiding evil or even fighting evil as insufficent to ensure going to heaven – at that stage of life it was something thought-provoking for me.

    Nonetheless, I do not think horror films should be treated as evangelism tools. We are rather to overcome darkenss with light, not darkness with darkness – and exposing audience to demonic imagery could be considered this kind of a strategy. The occasional effectiveness of such works is rather the case of God working all things to good.

  • I guess I wouldn’t be shocked if a horror film led people to “god”. If you’re willing to believe nonsense religion will embrace you with open arms. [and then ask for a check in the money plate of course]

  • You know i gotta say we can all assume this and that – But it just boils down to what ed warren says at the end of his quote its up to us to decide whether reality of this is true or false ? who knows ? Do i really care? no i don’t care – The mere fact of one even wanting to believe in demon empowers satan even more – Should i deny it?? no i wont deny it because if god exist then so does satan – So dont go [expletive deleted] Blah blah blah you said Should i care [expletive deleted] on me cause i didnt say satan and god does not exist. The mere fact that this movie Shows to the audience around the world that ” Demonic Entities ” is real and shows a example of what they can do in the real world such as – Mysteriously bypass Gravitation laws – and manipulate the physics of our world in any means necessary just shows that “satan” is at work provoking his Audience and ” Future audience ” of human beings to believe in him and look what you will receive – Honestly i thought the movie was [expletive deleted] there is no such thing as scary movies – I just wish i was actually scared – I laughed more then anything at the stupidity of it , anyways thats my thoughts on this

  • I myself have watched the movie and it was pretty terrifying. I think that yes the movie can possibly lead people to some sort of religious act because this movie shows what does it mean to be diabloical and what people who believe in Satan and witchcraft do. The only part that I would not agree with this movie is that the spirits only go after women. The vast majority of people that get these spirits stuck in side of them are women but also men can experience this too.