“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) is the newest in the Conjuring Universe Series, a new artifact to the Museum of The Haunted All and Sundry. The legendary Ed and Lorraine Warren are as inseparable as a couple in love and benevolent as rescuers of souls afflicted with the forces of evil as ever. But the mysteriously noble and spiritually convincing atmospheric elements are barely there, albeit the mix still has the thematic Catholic flavor. They said that when fact becomes legend, publish legend. So the story of the movie may be based on an actual event that has become American folklore, a modern legend, and it is the legend that the movie published.
As with the tradition of the Conjuring World, the movie evolves from the actual event of the supernatural phenomenon beyond the reasonable explanation on what the eyes only can see. First, an insidious ambiance surrounding a family house that seems strangely alienated adumbrates a sinister force lurking behind the bathroom door, over the shower curtains, and finally inside your head. Then comes a Catholic priest, thanks to the rite of exorcism popularized by The Exorcist and the Warrens’ association with the religion as their spiritual base. But he is usually not too much of significant help, if not a trouble, so it is always the Warrens’ job to ghost-bust with a style of a medieval magician who used to reconcile esoteric paganism with Christian faith. In this installation, Lorraine proves to be a mighty Christian mystic and a white witch in crossing over the space and reading memories of the dead, all for the fighting the devil’s deputy in a tunnel that promised to capture as many human souls as possible to fill up Hell’s Circles.
The essential thematic elements of good v. evil, love v. hatred, violence v. peace are unfailingly ubiquitous in this installment. Still, more violence and hatred make up the scenes than the others, making the movie more aligned with screaming scary movies than classified as supernatural horror. Perhaps the application of Catholic elements as a credible supplementary spell on the movie’s ambiance might have slightly fared well with the director’s intention (or the producer James Wan, the original creative director) to make the film elevated to a canon of classic supernatural movies. But it doesn’t give much of the movie’s intended effect when the Warrens can do what priests can do. Besides, the characters other than the Warrens themselves are not convincingly real, sympathetic, or natural. Instead, they are either surreal or theatrical to the point of playing a masque in Elizabethan time, so to speak, which would have been excellent.
I watched the movie with high hope when it first started showing on HBO Max last Friday night. But my expectation was already turning ominous when I had trouble viewing it at first for some unknown technical reason. Once I got into the third world of Conjuring Universe, I knew it wouldn’t be what I had expected. The real Warrens have become the ghosts themselves, and I wonder what they would have thought about the movie. Judging from their celebrity status in the society of paranormal investigators, I think they would probably have been thrilled about their being the creative subject of the movie. Then maybe, it’s time for me to leave the Conjuring Universe in search of a new world of the supernatural without celebrity.
Magic in ancient Greece and Rome was an art of crafting natural force with a bit of help from the world of gods and spirits wonderous to the user without fully knowing them. Contrary to traditional orthodox Christian teachings, magic was not associated by default with sorcery privileged to an esoteric spiritual elitist often dark and sinister. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, magic was their belief system, part of their modus vivendi in everyday life from slaves to emperors in the sense that we go to doctors or counselors. In a word, magic, as we understand now, was not so much deviltry as a variety of rituals of individual petitions pleaded for the fulfillment, which even the tremendous ancient minds regarded worthwhile to record.
Before the era of Christianity, the concept of magic was often interchangeably used with the knowledge of natural and supernatural worlds, which the ancients saw as not impossible to cross in between and thus believed the ghosts and the afterlife. Plato and Pliny, the Elder, advised no mortals go to graves alone after dark because there the restless souls of the dead not crossing the Styx, wandered. The most significant of the ghost story is Pliny the Younger’s letter to his friend Licinius Sura. He tells of the philosopher Athenodorus, a stoic astronomer and tutor to Octavian, the future emperor, witnessing a ghost of an old man in shackles showing his improper burial site.
Magic encompasses auguries and omens by the flights of birds, spells, and potions to charm the figures of desires, and the astrological signs in the ascendant at births and the sun, all of which to make uncertain futures known as guides to walk the paths of life to arrive at the fates. Matyszak tells the reader in the capacity of a Virgil leading Dante to the Underworld that seers at Delphi and Cumae were relatively easy to foretell the futures, which were unchangeable. Their acute intuition took a dreamy leap to poetically versed oracle pronouncement in the background of ethylene atmosphere and told what the petitioners could do at their best to deal with what laid ahead of them because there was no more than one fixed future.
The book invites the reader into the world of magic like never before because knowledge is a composite of Herodotus, Plutarch, Pliny the Younger, Socrates, and Plato. They took the extraordinary subject seriously because it was part of their daily lives bordering on a thin line of the spiritual world that was as real as they were. The book is written in a language accessible to all spectrums of education and walks of life. It is philosophy, religion, and history magically mixed in the author’s magic potion of erudition that significantly produces learning charmed in natural wits.
“Insidious” (2010), directed by James Wan is an intelligent movie with an entertaining flair to hold the attentions of both serious and light-hearted movie lovers. I am glad to have watched it last night on Netflix after reading a book on the history of ancient magic and ritual, and I must say there must be some kind of strange reason that I came upon the movie. It always seems so pat to find a supernatural movie orbiting around me and materializing at an apropos time that it gives me chilling fillip to my suspected element unrealized from within. Whatever it may be, and apart from all the mysterious signs hinting at something about my unknown anima, I am pleased to write about the movie herein.
The movie is anything but a faulty horror movie. Not “Insidious.” Hardly Ever the criticism of flamboyant cast. Never the limitations of a seemingly infinite range of imaginations that the writer wrote and the director portrayed. It is beautiful alchemy of the harmonious performance of the stellar cast and brilliant storytelling of the extraordinary event in the ordinary existence, all fascinating and riveting. Like an incantation of a professional sorcerer, the narrative slowly builds mystery around the atmosphere. It brings up images of the beyond at the zenith of the ritual when everything seems ready for demons or the superiors to appear before your very eyes.
The magnet of the movie is the Elise character faultlessly played by Lin Shaye, who began to change my perspectives on a psychic that if there is one like her in real life, I would love to chat with her and possibly work for her even as a part-time assistant. Elise reminds me of an ancient Cumaean Sybil who helped Trojan refugee Aeneas meet his father’s spirit in the Underworld with a gentle but powerful voice elucidating her beautiful spirit. But to call her psychic doesn’t do justice to her essence and vocation as a mystic helping people in distress. She balances her spiritual power with a rational mind by scientific methods to discern the origins of the spiritual maladies of her clients. And she does it in the gracefulness of a good witch performing white magic that I believe even priests would be envious of.
What makes the movie on par with the timeless supernatural film is the universal subject of the world beyond our sensory perceptions and across religious dogmas. It’s the world of “Further” where spirits lost wander around and dammed lurk in the darker corners of the crossroads. Elise helps the lost spirit of the boy in the Further find his way back to Here and goes further than she should save people’s lives from the evil power even it means to be at her expense.
“Insidious” is a thoughtful movie dealing with a supernatural thematic element that is harder to play on the screen than it is to envision in the mind’s theater. The movie’s impression spreads into a mind’s garden and stays there in alterations like an insidious charm of ghastly sightseeing so incredible that you can hardly dispel it. If you like to watch a good, decent ghost movie without mutilated bodies and ear-shattering screams, but ghosts or demons only, this movie may do.
Whether it is for the pursuit of artistic aestheticism or indulgence in sheer egoism, writers tell their stories in books where, in the peculiar alchemy of words dipped in imagination, they blend the real with the ideal. That said, Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautiful world of magic and witcraft that cast a spell on the gloomy reality to make it a gorgeous fantasy.
A melancholy of vertiginous existential crisis in a life fraught with responsibilities and duties morphs into a fantastic narrative of the imaginary world where magic, wizards, witches, and demons mingle with ordinary people and even fall in love with them like those of Olympus gods with mortals until Hesiod’s Heroic Age. Sophie Hatter, the book’s heroine, is Jones’s alter ego, only younger in age and freer in status. Still, everything else about her is Jones herself, most prominently her being the eldest child responsible for all things adult – by alas, birthright. Sophie’s self-analysis of being the oldest for the principal cause of misfortune applies to Jones’s family background, being the oldest of three sisters just as Sophie is for Martha and Lattie. I remember reading elsewhere that at the time of writing this book, Jones was going through the crisis in adulthood: a sickly husband, live-in mother-in-law, friends in need, children to take care of, etc. Despite Jones’s degree in English Literature from Oxford University, she felt injustice for her talent and mind eroding in the seemingly endless Sisyphean maneuvering of rolling up a daily boulder. So she took a pen to paper and wrote the book to spur her reservoir of existential frustrations on writing her story in the guise of fiction.
However, after the book’s success, Jones withstood from telling it a reflection of her inner world. She referred it to a certain boy who wanted to create a moving castle. Although the integrity of the inspiration belongs to the author’s literary license, Jones appeared to be reluctant to admit that she told her story in the book due to her celebrity. On a personal note, I could understand her volition to employ a more lovely pretext in safely hiding her existential frustration in privacy. Still, the book’s background written at the time of a crisis of adulthood puts together tesserae in a fanciful puzzler. The agency of magical elements in the story enables Jones to free herself from the mental inhibitions to depict the world’s realism, which seems too dreary and drab, gloomy and harsh, for the reader to be burdened with the author’s frustrations. Instead, Jones created the world populated with witches and wizards not looking like creepy worshippers of the devil and a fire demon far from being diabolic. All the menageries of wondrous characters neutralize the pathos of Sophie.
I read the book with a kindred spirit of being the firstborn child in the family, so it was a pleasure to know that I was not the only person who felt burdened with family and others’ cares. Witch of Waste’s turning Sophie into a ninety-year-old spinster adumbrates Jones’ feeling of oldness in her soul that affects her appearance due to her continuously solitary labor of care. Yet, Jones is kind to Sophie with the eccentric but wonderful Howl and other helpful characters, including Calcifer, a fire demon, all of whom recognize Sophie’s worth and beauty of heart with respect and care that she deserves so much. Jones does a fabulous job of transforming a vehement narrative of angst as an adult in the real-world into a fairytale of love and luck, where those who feel burdened with the weight of life will be awarded fabulous surprise long overdue.