Ya know, I wasn't sure what to make of The Conjuring at first. I mean--it's was horrifying to me, which means as a horror movie, it accomplished its goal. But from a gender perspective, I didn't initially know what to make of it or think I'd have much of anything to analyze. At first blush, you could write this film off as just portraying stereotypical gender roles (mom runs the home, dad works) and leave it at that. But the more I contemplated it, the more I realized there was actually interesting stuff going on. Spoilers after the cut.
The basic premise is this: Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston) move into a creepy old house with their 5 daughters. When the weirdness hits a fever pitch, they call in the paranormal experts, Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) to assist with their situation. Like I mentioned above, it genuinely creeped me out...and while it's not a perfect film, I did jump in my seat and feel my skin crawl frequently.
|[Image text: Lily Taylor as Carolyn Perron lighting a|
match in the dark as the spirit claps behind her.]
In this way, I thought it was particularly interesting that the horror in this horror movie was tied up in using mothers to kill their children. The spirit seems almost unconcerned with Roger and most of the terror is inflicted on Caroly and the girls. The spirit even goes as far as to horrify Carolyn by pretending to be one of her daughters playing a special family game with her. So when Carolyn ultimately becomes possessed and tries to attack her daughters, this plays on this already pre-existing feelings we have to see violence inflicted by mothers to be extra evil. Whereas many movies have used the father figure as the source of the fear before (The Shining, Amityville Horror, Stepfather) the mother is often poised as the protector of her children against the man. The Conjuring turns this trop on its head.
Now, I'm not saying that The Conjuring's of a possessed mother sends any kind of significant message; but just that its an interesting take. And it ultimately centers the main action of the film on women.
|[Image text: Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren|
trying to view a spirit in a music box mirror]
Lorraine is not just a paranormal expert like her husband...she's also a clairvoyant and we quickly learn that their success is due to her abilities. It's Lorraine who figures things out when they arrive in the Perron home. And it's Lorriane who assists Carolyn in finally shaking the demon away when Ed is attempting an exorcism (by appealing to Carolyn's memories as a mother, interestingly.)
Lorraine does fall sort of into the trope of powerful women who can't handle their own power. Ed talks to Roger about how each time Lorraine helps someone it "takes a piece of her." So Ed tries to protect her from being involved with the actual exorcism. However, Lorraine believes that God has sent Ed and herself to assist the Perron family so she persists, and again, it is only through her involvement that Carolyn is able to be saved.
From the story details down to the fact that eveyone in the movie only has daughters, this film is very female centric, which is refreshing. Additionally, this is a horror movie that never exploits or sexualizes the women or their bodies. I wish that wasn't such a rare thing, but it is. And finally, YES it does pass the Bechdel test, many times over.
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