We’re reminded why the ‘Conjuring’ universe is the world’s most successful faith-based movie franchise.
The first trailer for The Nun promises this will be the most nightmarish installment of the Conjuring cinematic universe so far, but chances are it will also be another story about hope and faith.
Watch the trailer here:
The demon nun Valak, introduced in The Conjuring 2, now features in a movie of its own as The Nun follows the story of a priest (Demián Bichir) and his assistant (Taissa Farmiga) as they travel to from the Vatican to Romania to investigate a nun’s mysterious death and wind up encountering the supernatural figure. The premise is reminiscent of Cristian Mungiu’s masterful film Beyond the Hills, a naturalistic account of a death by exorcism at a Romanian convent.
From the trailer alone, we have no reason to doubt that The Nun will be a frightening watch. Our first look at the film features a novitiate with foreboding visions, a cavernous abbey, and plenty of dark corners in which a demon nun who loves to hide in dark corners could hide. However, if this chilling movie is anything like it’s cinematic sisters, between the jump scares and diabolical deeds we should also expect to find an uplifting message about belief in God and faith through adversity. We should expect to see a genuine faith-based film.
Although movies with Christian themes have been around since the dawn of cinema, the faith-based films we know today (and the cottage industry that grew up around them) had their breakout moment in 2004 with the box office success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. In the time since that film became an unprecedented hit, production companies like Pureflix have cranked out releases targeted specifically to Evangelical Christian audiences, movies with plots that revolve around a character overcoming major adversity through faith.
Faith-based films don’t deal in heady theology. They focus on simple and accessible themes like trusting in God, finding renewed faith, and standing up for your beliefs. In a faith-based film, the strengthening of family bonds, and particularly of marriages, is nearly always allotted major screen time.
Many faith-based filmmakers have seen large returns for their efforts, and in recent years the faith-based film market has grown. Once purely niche fair, Evangelical-targeted films now attract mainstream stars, like Dennis Quaid in I Can Only Imagine and Jennifer Garner in Miracles from Heaven. Major studios now have subsidiaries dedicated to marketing to the faith-based demographic, but none of them have yet been able to produce a crossover hit of the magnitude of The Passion of the Christ.
That is except for Warner Bros., the studio behind The Conjuring, an R-rated movie about a devout Catholic couple who use their faith to save families from demonic forces. The 2013 horror flick shattered box office expectations and launched a franchise that is five installments strong and counting. It also introduced the genre elements originated in faith-based films to a mainstream audience, and a horror-loving one at that.
The Conjuring centers on Ed and Lorraine Warren, devoted and devout demonologists who invoke the power of God to save a loving family from the supernatural evil trying to tear them apart. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) speak openly about their Catholic beliefs and their faith-fueled marriage. One particular scene, in which Ed and Lorraine discuss their wedding vows, could have been borrowed word for word from any script optioned by Pureflix. The Conjuring’s story is the plot of a faith-based film. Loving Christians save a family from dissolution by looking to faith in the face of adversity, only instead of facing off against figurative demons, Ed and Lorraine battle literal ones.
The writers of The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, confirmed the series’ religious message in an interview with the Christian Post:
“For us, it’s very simple; we love doing true stories of where good conquers evil. ‘Conjuring 2’ is a story told through the eyes of believers, whose strongest weapon is their faith in God. Our film allows believers and non-believers to travel their journey with them, and in some ways, maybe affect someone who is on the edge of faith, and somehow give them the strength they need.”
The successive films in the Conjuring franchise have aligned to this faith-affirming mold. Faith through adversity bested the demon nun in the Conjuring 2. Selfless sacrifice thwarted the spooky doll in Annabelle. Terrifying trailer aside, we can likely expect another faith through adversity story from The Nun.
Trying to overcome the separation of church and box office has proved tricky for Hollywood distributors. Conventional faith-based films tend to cater too specifically to believers to find a greater viewership, while critically acclaimed films that dramatize faith like Silence aren’t able to appeal to Christian audiences en masse. It is downright remarkable that the happy medium between Evangelical values and secular tastes can be found in a Catholic horror franchise. If other faith based filmmakers want to find the same success, they might have to make a pact with the devil.