When one thinks of great horror films, one does not often think of the Christian gospel. But when Christian screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes wrote The Conjuring (2013), the second highest grossing original horror film behind The Exorcist, that's exactly what they had in mind. The film was intended to portray God's victory over evil and concluded with this bold statement:
"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.”
Their highly anticipated sequel, The Conjuring 2, arrives in theaters this weekend and critics say it is even scarier than its predecessor. But, according to the Hayes brothers, they've buried another Christian message in this film--namely, a story "about God always being there for those in need."
This story of two brothers who "came to know the Lord at a young age" and have devoted their lives to mixing Jesus with horror felt too intriguing to ignore. So I decided to talk with Chad and Carey about how their faith informs their work and whether they believe horror films can actually be redemptive.
RNS: Your first movie in this series was wildly successful--grossing more than $300 million dollars--but its theme was God's victory over evil. Why did you choose to center on that in The Conjuring?
Chad: Because it’s the truth and makes for a compelling drama. Our lead characters and the point of view of the film are Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were incredibly religious. In fact, Lorraine, who is still alive today, has Mass performed every day at her home. It was their faith in God that gave them the ability to help the Perron family triumph over evil, which we felt was so compelling. That’s why we chose to center the story around them. They simply walked the walk.
RNS: Did you include a faith message of any kind in this film?
Chad: Yes, in the overall tone of the story. We especially like Ephesians 6:12: “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.” We also liked the idea that one person can make a difference in someone else’s life.
RNS: Carey, God wins in these films. Was that intentional, and do you think that was necessary?
Carey: Yes, it was intentional as that was part of the story as well as the beliefs of Ed and Lorraine. And yes, very necessary. We set out from the start to do a true story, and God was part of that truth.
RNS: When you open the door to the spiritual realm, it’s hard to predict what you'll let in. Did you encounter any demonic or supernatural events while filming either of these movies?
Chad: Yes, we have a handful of times, but were able to pray them off, claiming authority in Jesus over them. When we were writing the first film, we spent hours on the phone with Lorraine, who lives on the East coast, and often the murmuring of voices would fill the line. Lorraine would just simply ask us to remember what we were just talking about as that’s what the interference was all about, and then she would sternly pray in the name of Jesus, commanding the voices to leave, and they would fade away. It happened a number of times.
Another time, we had random poltergeists of water appear in different areas on the floor of his house. Lorraine helped with that too, and it stopped. On another note, my son was working on the film and one day, he was alone, retrieving camera cable from the artifacts room. He heard a noise and spun around, only to find a spinning top on the floor behind him. Needless to say, he tore out of there and never went into that room again.
RNS: Carey, a lot of Christians may think that horror films are not well suited for believers who want to avoid gratuitous violence or demonic elements. How can a horror film, if written correctly, actually benefit a person of faith?
Carey: This is such a good question and we encounter this a lot. As Christians, we’re told to let God be the judge of things, not us. We believe we are also here to help one’s neighbor. In our films, good conquers evil, which being based in truth, proves that if evil exists, then God exists too. We’ve been sent letters from people experienced similar things to what they saw in the films, and came to become believers as a result. So if written correctly, and by that, we mean truthful in a spiritual sense, it tells the story of what a believer believes, and one by one, God’s army grows as people come to know the truth.
RNS: Is it possible for someone to use this film as a way to start a spiritual conversation with their children or friends? If so, how do you see that happening?
Chad: Yes, absolutely, but it’s already happened. We were approached by a couple of youth ministers at a convention who told us they started showing the film to their youth groups and then discussed them afterwards. We know other believers who have done the same thing for friends and family. Rick Warren even congratulated us, and said he loved the message the film brought to light. No pun intended, of course.