It’s a more recent development, but I LOVE horror movies, I love seeing how talented filmmakers reinvent what we know in a way that invokes all manner of unrest, whether that be in comical examples like Evil Dead II or Scream or dark and haunting like Hellraiser or Hereditary.
And one of the biggest names in horror has been to nobody’s shock, James Wan, this guy is with no exaggeration a powerhouse pumping out franchises like Saw and Insidious as well as cult classics like Malignant, but without a doubt, his biggest claim to fame is far and away the Conjuring series.
It’s hard to believe but a little under a decade ago in 2013, the first movie was released and WB saw so much potential that upon the success of its initial release, a spinoff was greenlit and released for the movie’s opening act, the soon to be titular, Annabelle.
This led right into the proper Conjuring II, as well as a second Annabelle movie (talk about breakout character), as well as a spinoff for The Conjuring 2‘s newest face of fear, and the reason for this article hilariously enough, The Nun.
Around this point, we’re reaching the late twenty ten’s and interest is starting to severely wane to the point that yet another spinoff, The Curse of La Llorna, as well as a third Annabelle movie released, and next to nobody ever mentions either of those two movies when discussing anything to do with this series.
However, maybe going back to their roots would help the series. In 2021, amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, WB and New Line Cinema released a third mainline Conjuring movie, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It to mixed reviews, but now with a questionable marketing campaign on the rise for 2023’s The Nun II, is it possible for this cinematic universe to come back out of the gutter to the greatness it once held in audiences eyes, or was it even worthy of that greatness to begin with?
As a minor bit of history, I have seen next to none of these movies prior to writing this article. I have only ever seen the original Conjuring movie and I vaguely remember it, so I will go through this entire series in release order and review each entry in an almost diary-like fashion, alright here we go!
Movie #1 – The Conjuring (2013)
Just got down with this first entry and it’s honestly a lot more solid than I remember it being, Wan knows how to develop both sets of characters and then organically have both parties meet together. I also really like how they commit to the 70s aesthetic and design choices all the way through, with something like this it’s really easy to let anachronisms slip by.
Lore is a little shaky, but for a self-contained movie, it has fun unravelling the little mystery it set itself up, and I’ll even say I really like the way they handled the spiritual side of things, even if the conclusion was more than a little foreshadowing. Wilson and Farmiga especially are really solid in this and I appreciate how they seamlessly blended the performance of Lili Taylor with that of Joseph Bishara in prosthetics.
Truthfully, I thought it was the same performer until just now when a quick search otherwise revealed. It’s no shocker to say, but yes, The Conjuring is worth the hype, it’s a very well-made movie and WB greenlighting the spinoffs makes so much sense in retrospect, strike while the iron is hot as they say. I can’t say there’s anything I was particularly blown away by, but it was well made, and I always love Wan’s over-the-shoulder style cinematography, but for what it’s worth, The Conjuring is an 8/10.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Movie #2 – Annabelle (2014)
I wanted to like this. I really did. There’s an interesting idea connecting motherhood and the sacrifices a parent makes for a child with a demonic incursion, but they do next to nothing with it. Beyond all that, I just don’t find “Annabelle” that scary, it’s just a doll.
It’s not like Chucky where he’ll mouth off the whole time so there’s a camp factor to it, no it’s just a bit of porcelain that occasionally turns or moves. The other main issue in my eyes is that the two most interesting characters, namely Evelyn and Father Perez, get next to nothing to do next to two of the most generic characters I’ve seen in a while.
They also have this gross decision of having suicide of all things be the answer to stopping Annabelle, which is wrong for so many reasons. I’m sure there’s an interesting story to do with this. Well I can’t even call Annabelle a character, but an idea, and I sure hope future entries have the charm of that first Conjuring movie instead of this cheaply produced rehashed blandness. Annabelle is a 4/10.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Movie #3 – The Conjuring 2 (2016)
I think the key to this universe working and this movie somewhat proves my theory, is having James Wan in the director’s seat because yet again this understands the heart of these characters, the unsettling lines between the explained and what’s not, and how to make an actually interesting climax considering you’re dealing with controversial real world people and stories.
I will say though, I am surprised that the Nun of all characters got such a strong response from audiences because she essentially just stands around and goes boo and does the same tired trope of giving visions to its victims, if anything I almost wish we got more about the Crooked Man. There’s a fun nursery rhyme explaining his origin, his actual conduit is really creative, and when you finally do see him it’s a design that has a ton of potential to it.
I’m not sure what the demand is at present, but I’d be interested to see Wan develop this idea into a full film. Much like the last one, the kids and the family included are honestly a saving grace while in most movies like this, they’d be the worst.
However, I’m surprised they never once followed through on that prophecy from early in the movie, not even doing a “we technically fulfilled it” thing like a lot of movies and shows do, it just seems like a lot of missed potential, especially with the over the top climax that made me roll my eyes. The movie is honestly probably a little worse than the original film, but not by much, The Conjuring 2 is a 6/10.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Movie #4 – Annabelle: Creation (2017)
In a strange way, I almost had high expectations for this. For a while, I remember being told that this movie was only made because everyone hated the original so much, and it also had Lights Out and the eventual director of Shazam, David F. Sandberg attached in the director’s seat. After watching I can say I wasn’t exactly given an honest assessment, it’s not awful, but it’s not great either.
The movie follows a rehomed orphanage as they relocate to the homestead of a toymaker and his wife, and of course, they find the doll amidst the house. It’s not that it’s a bad script, it’s perfectly serviceable, and the characters are compassionate and self-centered in the ways only a child could be, but something about it feels like it lacks passion.
It’s a bandage on the wound that is the original in that it fixes a lot (hell we finally get our first on-screen deaths!) but it’s still just okay, however, I did really enjoy how this movie played around with time and some of the continuity from the first entry in the spinoff, that was a neat change of pace, nothing groundbreaking, but that stuff felt creative to an extent. I just wish the movie itself justified the audience feeling the supposed terror the characters do, or hell even the R rating. Annabelle: Creation is a 5/10.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Movie #5 – The Nun (2018)
When your expectations are at rock bottom, you’re impressed by the strangest things. I can’t explain it, but for this spinoff of a character I could honestly not care about in even the slightest, there’s a small amount of genuine effort.
Usually throughout these movies, there’s next to no charm in the characters and they’re all business or stereotypical children (with the noted exception of Wan-helmed Conjuring movies), but with this one and only movie, there are at least three very distinctive characters in Father Burke, Frenchie, and Sister Irene.
Albeit they’re still surrounded by all the same tropes and cliches that you come to expect with a Conjuring universe movie (portal to hell, possession, all aspects of exclusively the Abrahamic faith is right, jumpscares, psychic powers, conclusion that makes no sense, etc.). Again, this was by no means a GOOD movie, but it was at least interesting in its strangeness.
There were a couple of creative visuals, it just shows that you can make any idea good if you actually try, but this didn’t really try all too hard. I will say though, that I did really enjoy how this tied into the wider Conjuring universe, genuinely unexpected and added an element of tragedy to what was essentially a throwaway line. The Nun is a 5/10.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Movie #6 – The Curse of La Llorna (2019)
If you looked purely at critical averages, you’d think this is a horror movie on par with 2017’s The Bye Bye Man, but honestly? I kind of liked it. Sure it’s not flawless and it takes a bit to get started but it has an identity wholly its own while still planted firmly in this universe.
I like that there’s a lot of common blood between this and the original Conjuring, down to not focusing on an “inhuman spirit” but a cursed human villain. Instead of the Warrens, this time we have Raymond Cruz, the legendary Tuco of Breaking Bad fame as Rafael, a former priest turned shaman who rides the line of spiritual and scientific with a morbid dry sense of humor.
It was also nice to once again see Father Perez in one of these movies, such an enjoyable actor to watch. Sure the kids aren’t the most interesting and the human antagonists aren’t the most fleshed out, but this is trying something new, namely focusing on Spanish folklore instead of “demons” and whatever Catholic imagery they remembered that week, and while it doesn’t always work, it’s not just playing it safe and in a weird way, I can respect a good movie with a few trite moments reminiscent of the worst of the series more than I can respect a bad spinoff with a familiar face and a singular good idea like any of the Annabelle movies or The Nun. The Curse of La Llorna is a 7/10.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Movie #7 – Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
As I’m slowly but surely approaching the end of the line I realize that as fewer eyes are on them in development, they’re less constrained by some set quota and directors can have far more creative freedom, I say this because yet again, I was pleasantly surprised. Shocker, I know, I genuinely liked an Annabelle movie, but this one gets it for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it’s all localized to mostly a single night so there’s less time for shenanigans, second, it’s set in the Warren’s home so beyond just Annabelle herself all their other cursed objects are unleashed creating this hellscape with the doll at the centre, which in a weird way reminded me of the game Batman: Arkham Asylum where the Joker takes over what should be his prison and unleashes all manner of evil on Batman.
It’s impressive how they use this setup to show off just how many bizarre and surreal abnormalities the Warrens have encountered which have all served as set dressing in prior entries such as the cursed samurai armor, the haunted wedding dress, and even things unrelated like a freaking werewolf showing up all worked and fit the chaotic hellish energy the movie was going for. It wasn’t remotely scary, but who cares, it’s a good vibe for a bit, with enjoyable and likeable characters from Judy Warren to Mary-Ellen, her friend Daniella, and the awkward boy next door Bob, who all feel like real people with strengths and weakness that ebb and flow.
I need to restate, this isn’t Shakespeare here, it’s a movie where a cursed doll takes over a house in suburbia and screws with teenagers, but this was a fun time for what it was even if some ideas are criminally underdeveloped. Annabelle Comes Home is flawed but enjoyable at a 6/10.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Movie #8 – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
There’s really not that much you can even say about this short of “it’s just okay”, this is about quality on the same level as the last two movies in this journey, which is good, but it’s also completely unremarkable.
The one thing I liked was that it was framed more as a mystery than a haunted house movie, which added an interesting element to it. Nobody really does a bad job, there are good actors trying with the material, and really damn good visual effects, but it’s all what we’ve seen before, I want to say more about this but I was just very middle of the road on this.
It’s not the worst thing I’ve seen from these movies, nor is it one of the best, it’s fine, with the noted exception of the occultist villain, who was like a fully realized version of Bathsheba from the original film but even she doesn’t have much personality of her own.
I thoroughly enjoy seeing Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in these roles, even if they are very clearly getting older as this one shows, but maybe it’s time to hang up the rosary beads and lay this series to rest. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a 6/10.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Movie #9 – The Nun 2 (2023)
And so it’s all built to this, was the journey worthy of the destination. Absolutely not by any stretch of the imagination. A contradictory and convoluted bout of insanity that bends over backwards to make that great reveal from the end of the last movie practically meaningless.
While I still enjoy Frenchie and Irene, they’re now accompanied by Sister Debra who feels entirely out of place much less in this movie but this universe because she feels too much like someone from our world and not like a nun in a universe that has tangible demons and psychics (who are apparently all descended from Saint Lucy) because she references real-world horrible things like racism and sexism, things which have been weirdly ignored for period pieces with wildly diverse casts, but at the same time she also is partly responsible for a conclusion so bad that it puts nearly destroying the house in Conjuring 2 or Annabelle: Creation ending on a child trying to murder people both to shame.
I can’t even say there’s any horrific imagery that I thought was especially creative, it’s all so been there, done that, with one exception near the very beginning. Mind you, it all looks nice, but it’s so hollow I just felt nothing except a desire to laugh whenever a jumpscare occurred. The Nun II is a 4/10.
Rating: 2 out of 5
- Movie #1 – The Conjuring (2013)
- Rating: 4 out of 5
- Movie #2 – Annabelle (2014)
- Rating: 2 out of 5
- Movie #3 – The Conjuring 2 (2016)
- Rating: 3 out of 5
- Movie #4 – Annabelle: Creation (2017)
- Rating: 2.5 out of 5
- Movie #5 – The Nun (2018)
- Rating: 2.5 out of 5
- Movie #6 – The Curse of La Llorna (2019)
- Rating: 3.5 out of 5
- Movie #8 – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
- Rating: 3 out of 5
- Movie #9 – The Nun 2 (2023)
- Rating: 2 out of 5
These movies are a very very mixed bag, none are particularly scary, but they are for the most part inventive. At their best they take real-life accounts and blend the real with the surreal and at their worst they have spinoffs about characters that essentially just stand around…looking menacingly.
The Conjuring universe is harmless studio-approved horror that gets repetitive fast with a few genuine bright spots along the way such as Curse of La Llorna, Annabelle Comes Home, and maybe one and a half of the three Conjuring movies.
I can’t say I’m not interested in where they take this next, if anything this whole experience has made me something of a fan whether genuine or by Stockholm syndrome is anyone’s guess. Whether that includes Annabelle 4, Nun 3, Conjuring 4, or the various tossed-around spinoffs for the Crooked Man, the Samurai, or the Bride, it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll be innovators once more or fall back into the comfortable trends of yore.