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Monday, June 13, 2016

Film Land - What's Next for The Conjuring?

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This weekend marked the return of Ed and Lorraine Warren to the box office scene with The Conjuring 2.  The follow up to 2013’s shock horror smash dominated the box office over the weekend, crushing Warcraft in totals, and cementing The Conjuring as the latest dynamite horror franchise of the 2010s alongside Insidious and The Purge. 

Given that monster success and the low cost of the films to produce, a spin-off film entitled The Nun is already in production and a 3rd film is entering the discussion phase.  However, a third movie would raise a lot of questions this time around in terms of setting, antagonist, characters, plot, and creative team.  Thankfully, I’ve broken these issues down into 6 central questions about what’s next for the Conjuring films. 

A New Direction – 
James Wan can’t return to direct
The biggest question looming over a 3rd Conjuring movie is the fact that James Wan would be unable to direct.  Wan’s made statements about the possibility of a third film and while he and the screenwriters are interested in another installment Wan stated his schedule was too cramped to direct.  

Ideally, a third chapter would feature the same writers and Wan has mentioned there are several filmmakers he’d like to see take a swing at the series but losing his touch would be pretty devastating.  The Insidious franchise lost Wan after the second installment and things went down hill almost immediately. 

However, it’s not as if it’d be impossible for another director to come in and take over where Wan left off.  Wan is an unquestionable master of horror and a true great of the modern era but when Darren Lynn Bousman took the reigns on the follow up to Wan’s Saw he transformed the series into something even more.  

As much as I liked Saw and its excellent twist, Saw II is unquestionably the better film and the movie that really made Jigsaw the true horror icon he is today.  The thing is, the big reason that Saw II worked so well was because it was an entirely different movie that ended up slotted into the Saw franchise. 

So, if some up and coming horror filmmaker like Nacho Vigalondo or Gareth Huw Evans wanted to tell a cool spooky ghost story and the studio decided to slot it into the Conjuring franchise for marquee value that’d be great.  Unfortunately, there’s every bit the same chance that New Line will hand the franchise off to the first studio hack on call, knock out a disappointing 3rd installment, and call it a warp. 

Moving Forward – 
From the ‘70s into the ‘80s
One of the great parts of the Conjuring films has been the incredible design aesthetic that goes into the period setting.  Both films have been grounded thoroughly in the visual language and mood of the 1970s, to the point that other films like We Are Still Here have started aping the visual style of the Conjuring movies.  

However, if the films are to persist into a third installment they’d have to keep moving forward in time and director/producer James Wan has stated that the next film would have to move into the ‘80s.  The thing about an ‘80s set version of the Conjuring is that it would create a substantially different mood, tone, and even core of the horror.

I’ve spoken previously about the way horror is intertwined with economic status and that’s just as true in The Conjuring as it is in The Purge or Attack the Block.  Haunted house films in general work off a kind of horror that’s in tune with financial instability, that’s why so often the real risk of the haunted house is that the people who move in are stuck in a literal death trap because it’d be too expensive to move.  That kind of set-up works extremely well as hand waving why people can’t just flee their home as well as an added layer of connection to the audience, hence why haunted house movies tend to boom in times of financial instability. 

The thing is, that particular set-up doesn’t really apply to the 1980s, as it would be conveyed in a Conjuring film.  The Conjuring movies are all about capturing the mood of the ‘70s, the feeling of malaise and recession that informed the end of that decade.  

Given that set-up, a Conjuring movie set in the ‘80s would be about the mood of conformity and consumerism that gave rise to the Reagan years.  Unless the films are planning a serious departure from how they envision the past they’d need to seriously rework the monster at hand to make the movie work, speaking of which.  

Monsters – 
After Ghosts & Demons, what’s next?
So far, the Conjuring films have worked their way through a ton of different monsters.  The first film’s central antagonist was the ghost of a witch that possessed the lifting to force them to murder and commit suicide.  However, that particular boogeyman was augmented by the additional monster of Annabelle, a creepy living doll, that the ghost witch eventually teamed up with to menace the heroes’ daughter. 

This latest film has tripled the villain count with the central antagonist being the Nun, a demon from Hell taking the form of a satanic nun.  Unlike the ghost witch, the Nun was like a downright comic book villain employing a deadly henchman and enslaving a spirit to do her viscous bidding.  

Firstly there was Bill Wilkins, the ghost of a man who died in the English house where the film takes place that the Nun enslaved to her purposes.  Then there was the incredibly creepy “Crooked Man” character, a monstrous specter that emerged from a freaky zoetrope and was able to transform into a dog. 

Given everything we’ve seen, I’m incredibly hopeful the third Conjuring film keeps the evolution and changing nature of its monsters growing.  I’m not sure what they could get into without crossing the line into overt monsters like vampires or Slasher killers, which would stray pretty hard from the eerie spectral nature of the films so far.  

It would be cool to see the films handled more sentient or haunted objects in the vein of the Annabelle doll, especially given the dearth of cursed object movies out there.  What’s more, that approach would fit with the slim, minimalistic approach to horror and classic iconography the Conjuring films have, not to mention how well it’d fit with the Warren’s room of haunted objects.  Which brings me to my next point. 

Spin-offs – 
After Annabelle & the Nun, are more spin-offs coming?
So far, The Conjuring films have produced 2 spin-offs, the first was 2014’s abysmal Annabelle movie and the second is the upcoming The Nun spin-off from The Conjuring 2.  While both of these spin-offs are related to monsters glimpsed in their respective films, there’s an entire room full of creepy objects that could serve as inspiration for future spin-off concepts.  The Warren’s superhero headquarters full of ghost memorabilia is a big part of The Conjuring’s weird, comic booky appeal and the iconic nature of the objects glimpsed within is a great jumping off point for future horror tales. 

The Conjuring’s whole mythos is steeped in the mechanic and design of a comic book universe, with the Warrens as superheroes called out from their secret headquarters to use their expert knowledge and psychic abilities to fight the forces of evil that make-up their slowly expanding rogues gallery.  

Expanding the collection of ghouls and goblins that make up the Warren’s many foes would be a great way to build up to things to come in future films without necessarily needing to bring in the stars of the series. 

Additionally, if the producers didn’t want to go with monster spin-offs they could go with other ghost hunters in the Warren’s world.  The Conjuring 2 featured a key character from Britain’s Society for Psychical Research, one of the oldest organizations dedicated to documenting spiritual phenomena.  

They could easily fit the bill for a spin-off, or, indeed, the you could cut out the middleman and go right to the Catholic church that the Warrens so often serve as agents of.  You could even pull off a new Amityville reboot given the house’s connection to the second Conjuring film and the horrors they see within it.  There is, however one character a lot closer to the Warrens that could warrant a film of their own. 

The Next Generation – Judy Warren?
One of the more under-explored parts of the Warren’s life in the Conjuring films is their daughter Judy.  Judy’s been a background player in both films, getting menaced by Annabelle in the first film and then briefly seeing The Nun in the second.  The Warren’s marriage is a big part of what makes the films so unique as it creates a genuine romance that bonds the two together in a great way that’s pretty rare in horror films.  

However, Judy’s absence has always been pretty conspicuous and her lack of development makes the relationships feel a little bit hollow, even at the best of times.  Giving her a greater focus as she continues to age into the ‘80s would be a nice way to improve on the problems of the past installments. 

The other thing that the films have touched on is that Judy has inherited her mother’s psychic powers.  We’ve seen her project her consciousness to contact Lorraine in the first film when Annabelle was attacking her and in this latest installment she was able to perceive the demonic nun just as her mom was.  

That’s actually true to life, or at least as true as can be for a group as discredited as the Warrens are but Judy Warren has claimed to have inherited her mother’s supposed psychic powers.   This means that Judy could conceivably take over as the main character of the series if New Line wanted the films to persist into a Saw/Paranormal Activity sized franchise.  Conversely, they could spin-off Judy into her own film as she breaks out on her own trying to be a ghost hunter in the same style as her parents. 

Satan – 
has the devil declared war on Ed Warren?
This is one of the weirder plot points that the latest Conjuring movie just kind of blitzed through, perhaps in the hopes that you wouldn’t notice it.  Partially this is because you can tell the evil Nun stuff came about in reshoots and doesn’t really fit with the Satan story but mainly it’s just a dopey idea all around.  In case you missed it, the overarching plot of The Conjuring 2 is that the demonic Nun is out to lure the Warrens’ into investigating the Enfield Poltergeist because it plans to kill Ed Warren in the investigation. 

A big part of the slow reveal of this plan is a scene in the film’s quieter conclusion of the second act where Ed mentions how Satan has been trying to get at him since he was a child.  Now the idea that the Nun and the haunting are all a set-up to get Ed doesn’t really work with the haunting also specifically making them leave (like I said, clearly added in post) but the Satan v. Warren stuff is still very much there and a big part of the plot. 

This ties into the whole idea of The Conjuring as comic book horror as it gives the Warrens a big archenemy to work against in upcoming installments.  Setting up Satan as their secret greatest foe allows the films to slowly build to whatever Satan’s ultimate plan is like he’s Thanos or Darkseid or something.  

This all begs the question of how much of a role the devil will play in the next installment and whether or not the idea of him slowly and subtly working against the Warrens will play out to be as big a deal as it could be for the films.  Personally I hope not as the devil is the kind of last ditch big reveal that’s hard to come back from unless you’re planning to reveal Cthulu as the villain of The Conjuring 7. 
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