Is the Conjuring Misogynistic?

Short answer: no.

Longer answer: While reading a review of Annabelle in the Boston Globe, I came across an unfamiliar accusation. Peter Keough opened his critique with the following:

“Some praised “The Conjuring” (2013), James Wan’s film about the exorcism of a possessed house, for being scary without resorting to gore or special effects. Others, myself included, found the scariest aspect of the film to be its misogyny.”

I have seen The Conjuring multiple times and enjoy the film very much. I find it to be a well-written, well-acted, retro film of demonic horror. Personally, I had never noticed the misogyny that Keough referred to. After a little digging, the internet was revealed to have a few writers with opinions similar to the Globe. Andrew O’Hehir‘s article,The Conjuring”: Right-wing, woman-hating and really scary, appeared to be the most notable piece of criticism. In it, O’Hehir damns The Conjuring for its portrayal of the Warrens, its use of female antagonists, and its implied message that the Salem Witch trials were justified. He also reveals that he had mixed feelings on the film.

Okay… slow down.

For the record, O’Hehir is not the only one to feel this way, there are other reviews that echo his own sentiments… but let’s look at the accusations. First off, the Warrens. For those out there reading this without seeing the movie, The Conjuring follows the horror standard of “based on a true story.” Ed and Lorraine Warren were real-life Christian demon hunters who roamed the land and looked for evil to exorcise. In short: they were/are religious extremists. The kind of people who are more likely to believe in the devil than Darwin.

Criticisms of The Conjuring take issue with the film’s validating portrayal of the Warrens. In the film, the couple’s faith is shown only as their greatest weapon. It is what allows them to defeat the demon and save the family from harm. While admittedly, the Warrens were not this positive in real life, I am curious as to what the solution here would be? In order for The Conjuring to work as a haunted house horror film – the Warrens have to be more than just religious kooks. The entire threat of the movie would vanish if the Warrens weren’t valid in their beliefs.

The real Warrens were probably wackos... but they are not in the movie.
The real Warrens were probably wackos… but they are not in the movie.

I feel that here is an instance where O-Hehir and other critics are projecting unreasonable expectations onto The Conjuring. EVERY MOVIE that uses the line “based on a true story” is fictitious. It is not the responsibility of any film maker to ever whisper to their audience “just remember kids, this isn’t real.” If The Conjuring were attempting a more meta approach, this criticism would be valid. As such, this is clearly a pure Hollywood thrill ride. The script does not address the fourth wall so director James Wan has no reason to either. It’s not that type of movie – these aren’t the real Warrens. They did not look like Vera Farmiga or Patrick Wilson either. Calm down about the portrayal.

Now, about the female portrayal:

Yes, the evil spirit haunting the house is a woman. A female antagonist does not misogyny make. It would as ridiculous as the claim that all black villains promote racism. Two of the main protagonists are women as well. Elaine Warren (who is depicted as the more essential of the couple) helps Lili Taylor‘s Carolyn defend her family from evil. O’Hehir seems to feel that the film labels women and their behaviors/identity as the source of all evil in the world. Again, this feels like a forced intrusion of perspective. Carolyn is not targeted for possession for neglecting her wifely duties – her family moved into a haunted house! If the ghost had attacked the husband, would that be a vengeful man-hating ghost uber-feminist? No, that would be a ghost.

What do you see? A man protecting a helpless woman or a husband trying to guard his wife? Perspective makes a difference.
What do you see? A man protecting a helpless woman or a husband trying to guard his wife? Perspective makes a difference.

But Carolyn is saved by the power of maternal instincts!

Carolyn is saved by loving her children and not wanting to kill them… you know, not becoming a monster. Could a person project opinions/commentaries of maternal identity onto this action – of course. Yet at its heart, it is a parent refusing to abandon their child, and fighting off an evil force to do it. It is the climax of the film.

Yes, this is a movie that projects religious salvation over evil – because it is a movie about exorcism. Is it validating conservative roles and proclaiming religious faith is the ultimate way to go? Sure… if any audience member actually fights a real demon in their day-to-day life.

The last criticism I would like to address is the charge that The Conjuring validates the Salem Witch trials. This is both a serious charge and a baseless accusation. By claiming (in a fictional movie) that one real witch existed in the 1800s, The Conjuring is somehow saying that those poor victims deserved what they got in the 1600s. There is no line of dialogue that refers to the Salem Witch trials. There is nothing to connect the dots at all. Having a witch in the movie does not condone horrible crimes that happened in real life. There are several witches in Wizard of Oz, and yet I do not think that film is looking to serve as a commentary either.

Yes, witches were totally real. Just look at all the totally real stuff they could do.

The Conjuring, despite its marketing campaign, is not trying to be fact. There are many films that cross that line far worse (The Fourth Kind comes to mind). It is not as intelligent as certain horror gems like The Exorcist, but it is not trying to be either. It is fine to not like a movie, that is a very acceptable situation. That said, projecting an unreasonable set of expectations – and labeling the film as misogynistic – when it fails to follow them, goes too far. Certain people will see scenarios where none exist. Certain people will read novels in the blank spaces between the lines.

There are people out there who feel King Kong was made as a commentary on racism. Sure, if one discounts the people who made it - that is an acceptable thesis.
There are people out there who feel King Kong was made as a commentary on racism. Sure, if one discounts the people who made it – that is an acceptable thesis.

In certain cases, there is something to it. That said, The Conjuring is popcorn. You either like popcorn or you don’t. Just don’t go calling it milk duds. Do not go looking for sin where none exists. That sounds like a witch hunt.

How James Wan probably reacted to the criticism.
How James Wan probably reacted to the criticism.

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