The Conjuring Beat Sheet
Uncommon for the release date of a horror film, The Conjuring opened at the height of summer on July 19, 2013, to smashing box office success. The film was based on case files documented by Ed and Lorraine Warren, two well-known New England paranormal investigators. The film had a lengthy development process of nearly two decades before it appeared on the screen. Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (House of Wax, The Reaping) wrote the script and James Wan (Saw, Insidious) directed it.
Due to its success, The Conjuring was followed by the spin-off film Annabelle (2014) and its sequel Annabelle: The Creation (2017), as well as The Conjuring 2 (2016) and its spin-off film, The Nun (2018) (starring my good friend, Bonnie Aarons, as the eponymous demonic nun, Valak). Annabelle Comes Home opens in theaters this week. The Conjuring 3 (2020), The Nun 2, and The Crooked Man (another spin-off from The Conjuring 2) are all slated for release and The Curse of La Llorona (2019) is a new entry into The Conjuring Universe.
The films collectively have earned nearly two billion dollars and have inspired new generations of horror fans. Though there is controversy surrounding the Warrens and their claims, this beat sheet is only following the feature film inspired by one of their cases, not the actual people based on it.
Genre: Supra-natural horror
Cousins: The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Witch, Hereditary, The Shining, The Haunting, Candyman, The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, The Nun, Annabelle: Creation, The Curse of La Llorona, Annabelle Comes Home, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, The Haunting in Connecticut, The Devil Inside, The Last Exorcism, The Possession, Burnt Offerings, Insidious
Screenplay by: Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes
Directed by: James Wan
Opening Image: Three terrified roommates relay to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) about their creepy experience with an eerie doll named Annabelle. A girl who died in the apartment, Annabelle Higgins, reached out to them from beyond the grave and wanted to inhabit the doll. After that, things got weird. The doll seemed to be after them. The Warrens explain that it was a demon. And it didn’t want to possess the doll, but a person. The Annabelle doll was only a conduit for the demonic entity.
Set-Up: The Warrens relay the Annabelle story to a group of university students. Some rolling titles inform us of whom the Warrens are: “Since the 1960s, Ed and Lorraine Warren have been known as the world’s most renowned paranormal investigators. Lorraine is a gifted clairvoyant, while Ed is the only non-ordained Demonologist recognized by the Catholic Church.
Out of thousands of cases throughout their controversial careers, there is one case so malevolent, they’ve kept it locked away until now.
Based on a true story.”
Theme Stated: The Warrens explain that they brought in a priest from the church to bless the oppressed apartment and people, and then there was no further Annabelle activity. And the Warrens took the doll to “someplace safe.” Helping people who need it is the theme of this story.
Set-Up (cont’d): The Perron family moves into the house in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Sadie the dog wants nothing to do with the new place, remaining outside. Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) move their five girls—Andrea (Shanley Caswell), Nancy (Haley McFarland), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy), and April (Kyla Deaver)—in.
This lofty new beginning for the Perron family seems like a dream, but it will descend into a nightmare. Every Monster in the House movie has a House, Monster, and Sin. The Perron house is the House. By an ancient, gnarled tree, the youngest, April, discovers an antique music box. Within the first 10 minutes, all the primary characters have been conjured for the cinematic story.
Catalyst: Playing a game, hide-and-clap, the girls accidentally discover a boarded-up stairway that leads to a dark cellar. Roger checks it out. Yep, it’s creepy, cobwebby, shadowy, and it’s the center of evil in the house. We won’t find out how evil until later.
Debate: Why was the staircase to the cellar boarded up? Probably a good reason. The girls complain of bad smells. Carolyn has mysterious bruises on her leg. Clocks in the house stopped at 3:07 AM, the hour of demons. Sadie the dog is dead. Birds crash into the windows. Something strange is happening. Something grabs Christine’s (Zoe King) leg while she sleeps. What’s going on?
B Story: Back at the Warren place in Monroe, Connecticut, Ed talks to a reporter (Arnell Powell). The paranormal investigator gives the reporter, and us, more background about what they do as demonologists (and another glimpse of demon doll, Annabelle). We learn that during an exorcism, Lorraine had a bad experience. Ed must protect her. The Warrens will be saviors and mentors to the Perrons, which will carry the story’s theme helping people who need it.
Break into Two: After all the other kids are off to school, Carolyn visits her youngest daughter, April. She’s playing with the music box and talking to “Rory,” her “imaginary friend.” It’s a little unsettling. April then wants to play hide-and-clap as all the big kids do. Carolyn relents. However, Carolyn soon learns that there’s something not right. She tries to find April in an old wardrobe that came with the house “I can hear you breathing.” But it’s not April. Things are amiss. Enter the upside-down world. Carolyn will have to act.
Fun and Games: While she’s sleeping, something pulls Christine’s leg again. She’s then alarmed seeing someone behind the door of her room. She wakes up her sister, Nancy. They scream, bringing in Roger and Carolyn. They can’t find anything. However, Christine says that “it talked to me—it wants my family dead!” This raises the stakes as the situation becomes life and death.
Ed gets a call about a case. He lies to Lorraine about it as he’s worried about her from the last time where the exorcism went wrong. Lorraine said she’s fine and that “God brought us together for a reason.” We see Ed and Lorraine are working a case. This time, it’s not demonic. It’s some pipes creaking up in an attic. This time their case is a rational explanation. Not to worry though, they’ll be fighting evil in the Perron home soon enough.
Carolyn keeps getting bruised. She’s awakened when she hears clapping. The rest of the house is asleep. Crash. Something knocks all the family pictures off the wall. Yes, this is a payoff from the Break into Two. There is something strange going on. The house seems haunted. She must act.
The Warrens teach a session at another college. They show a film of how they assisted with an exorcism that eventually claimed the life of the subject and deeply wounded Lorraine. They teach the three principals of demonic possession: (1) Infestation: the whisperings, the footsteps, the feeling of another presence, et al. (2) Oppression: when an insidious, external force targets a person who’s often the most psychologically vulnerable. It breaks the victim down and crushes their will. Once the victim is in a weakened state, it leads to (3) Possession: when the dark spirit takes over the host.
Carolyn Perron sits in the audience (along with a cameo of the real Lorraine Warren). Carolyn begs the Warrens to visit her home. They do, reluctantly. Once they step inside the Perron home, however, they determine there’s a demonic presence—smells of rotting meat, cold spots, rhythmic knocking in threes that stops at dawn.
Lorraine sees a psychic vision of a woman hanging from the old tree. Something bad has happened here—it’s latched onto the Perron family and will never let them go.
Midpoint: The Warrens decide that the Perron house needs an exorcism. Doing research to help the Perrons, which ties A and B stories together, the paranormal investigators learn about Bathsheba Sherman, who was related to an accused witch, Mary Towne Easty. Back in the 1860s, she attempted to murder her seven-day-old child. When her husband stopped her, Bathsheba ran outside, proclaimed her love to Satan, cursed the land, and then hanged herself from the tree (at 3:07 AM). Since then, the 200 acres have been subdivided. People who have had neighboring homes to the old Sherman place have committed suicide. Rory, the little boy, was killed by his mother and then she committed suicide in the cellar.
Bathsheba’s action of dealing with the devil is the Sin that has brought the Monster and has cursed the land for a century. This raises the stakes as the Warrens know that the deaths of others who lived on the land mean that the Perrons are in danger. This new knowledge also starts the ticking clock as there’s not much time; the diabolic gears were set in motion. We know that Infestation leads to Oppression and ultimately to Possession. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
Bad Guys Close In: The Warrens begin their investigation in the Perron house. They need to get enough evidence to convince the Catholic church that an exorcism needs to be performed. (Ed isn’t an ordained priest, so he cannot officially do it.) They bring along some help. Officer Brad Hamilton (John Brotherton) and their assistant, Drew (Shannon Kook). They set up cameras, bells, thermal registers, and microphones. They also bring in religious icons like crosses to “piss off” the offending entity and call it out so it can be identified and stopped.
They upset Bathsheba. The dark entity vomits into Carolyn’s mouth, taking possession of her.
Ed reveals to Roger than he’s worried about Lorraine. Every time they work a case, whatever Lorraine sees or feels takes a toll. The last case they worked upset Lorraine so much that she isolated herself from everyone for eight days without food. Ed doesn’t want that to happen again, which raises the stakes for the B Story characters.
All Is Lost: Lorraine follows Cindy while she’s sleepwalking. This leads her to a secret passage within the walls of the house. Lorraine then falls through the floorboards and down into the cellar. This is the whiff of death moment. She learns that Bathsheba “possesses the mother to kill the child.” Just like Rory’s mother did with him. That’s why Bathsheba has possessed Carolyn—to kill her daughters.
Dark Night of the Soul: With enough physical evidence of a demonic presence, the Warrens present their findings to the church. The Perrons leave their house, heading to a motel, to get away from the dark spirit. (However, as Ed told them earlier that a haunting can be like stepping in gum—you take it with you.)
During the skirmish in the cellar, Lorraine lost the silver locket that her daughter Judy gave to her. Judy has a matching locket. Bathsheba uses the locket to port over to the Warren house. Bathsheba attempts to crush Judy with a rocking chair but Ed saves her just in time. This raises the stakes for the B Story characters even further as, like the Perrons, their own family is in mortal danger.
Ed and Lorraine receive a call from Roger Perron. He says that Carolyn took the two youngest—Christine and April—in the middle of the night.
Break into Three: The Warrens figure that “she possesses the mother to kill the child” means that possessed Carolyn will return to Bathsheba’s house to kill her children as an offering to Satan. They must help! This last-ditch action from the helpful Warrens ties A and B stories together.
1. Gathering the Team: The Warrens race back to the Perron house to stop Carolyn.
2. Executing the Plan: Ed and Lorraine free Christine and April from the possessed Carolyn. The plan is to get her back to the priest so they can perform the exorcism.
3. High Tower Surprise: Violent, bloody marks appear on Carolyn. The dark spirit of Bathsheba won’t let Carolyn leave the house alive. It uses psychic energy to rip Carolyn away from the Warrens and Roger. Then it pulls Carolyn back down into the cellar.
4. Dig Deep Down: The Warrens restrain the possessed Carolyn to a chair. Ed decides that he must perform the exorcism. It can’t wait for Father Gordon. He wants Lorraine to leave. She says that “God brought them together for a reason. This is the reason.” Ed relents. He then performs the exorcism. The demonic Carolyn spits blood and levitates, shades of The Exorcist.
Drew, who went off to search for the missing April, says that he found her. She’s under the floorboards where Lorraine fell. Bathsheba (possessing Carolyn’s body) goes after April to murder her (“she possesses the mother to kill the child”).
5. Executing the New Plan: Ed, needing to complete the exorcism, says that they have to destroy the demon from within. With Lorraine and Roger’s help, they have Carolyn remember who she was, her family, her children, everything that she would destroy. It works. The benevolent magic is too powerful for the malevolent demon. Carolyn vomits out the evil of Bathsheba. Now the Perron family is safe again.
Final Image: The Warrens return home. Tired, but thankful that they’ve helped someone and survived another case. Lorraine calls the Catholic church to tell them what happened. She learns that the Vatican has approved of the exorcism (a little too late). Ed places the music box in his occult museum along with all the other artifacts.
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