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He also treats this haunted house with a deft cinematic touch. How he uses the atmospherics of the house—how he so effectively employs sound and space—is best illustrated by a "hide and clap" game that the Perron family enjoys playing. Blindfolded, one of the girls begins walking through the house looking for her hidden siblings, asking for up to three claps to try to orient herself to their hiding places. Wan has many obvious-enough uses for this game later in the film, but the game is a playful version of what the Perrons experience in their house without a blindfold. They're forced to search out unfamiliar sounds in unfamiliar spaces.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, and Steve Coulter in The Conjuring
Michael Tackett / Warner Bros.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, and Steve Coulter in The Conjuring

Wan's careful camera placement has viewers along for the ride, switching from a first-person perspective that identifies us with the Perrons to fairly subtle shots that identify recurring danger spots in the house. In one memorable scene when Carolyn Perron is walking through the house alone, the demonic presence begins by mimicking the children's clapping, and then the functional "clap" is a ticking clock, a sudden explosion of framed family pictures falling to the ground, creaking doors, and finally some phantom piano-playing. Wan's haunted house works because he maintains a creepy otherness while also familiarizing the viewer with the layout of the house so as to bolster the uneasiness for return trips to several of its rooms.

Further, when the Warrens come, they bring analog equipment for their paranormal investigation: temperature-sensitive cameras, UV lights, reel-to-reel recorders, microphones, and shortsighted camera lights. This equipment augments the horrific sights and sounds, inviting us along to document the horrific—while also providing an added flare to the viewer's experience of the film's 1971 setting.

I mentioned earlier that the Warrens offer a hopeful, relieving presence to both the Perrons and viewers. The film's screenwriting brothers, Chad and Carey Hayes, recently commented, "We're never going to glorify evil. We want people to feel great after seeing it. To be scared and entertained, of course, but to walk out of the theater with a good feeling because good, God, is victorious."

But interestingly, they also referred to the Warrens as "missionaries of sorts." This description speaks to one of the film's most interesting dimensions: the Warrens are missionaries in the sense that they are in pursuit of reclamation—of both spaces and souls. And within this frame of reference, the film allows this missional work to include an essential crisis of belief. Part of the Perrons' trouble is that they aren't "the churchgoing types." And one involved policeman humorously plays the skeptic (though not for long). As such, essential to dissipating the darkness is the Warrens' "investigation" to drive away unbelief.

Most commonly, a "conjuring" involves the "[summoning] of a devil or spirit by magical or supernatural power." But when Carolyn recognizes the grave trouble that her family is up against, she conjures the Warrens because she recognizes their own "great power of influence."

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The Conjuring