Last summer, I came across a photo online of all the Conjuring movies listed in the order they occur within the Conjuring universe.
Because I love horror, and because I didn’t have much else going on, I did what any sane person would do – settled down and embarked on a summer-long quest to watch almost 14 hours of Conjuring footage.
Spoiler non-enjoyers be warned.
The Nun (2018) – Set in 1952
While not the first movie in the franchise, the events in The Nun are set before anything else. The story follows a priest and a young nun in her novitiate as they investigate a mysterious death at a cloistered abbey in Romania. Once there, they discover the abbey is under attack by a demon who takes the form of the titular Nun.
As a fan of gothic horror, I had high hopes for this movie. The Nun was set up as this terrifying entity, and there was a lot of potential for scary scenes in the dark, decaying abbey.
However, this movie falls flat. It’s one of the worst movies in the series, solely because it had so much potential to be good. The movie recognizes that its setting and the main character are scary, and it leans too much into this, forgoing any meaningful storytelling. It’s the film equivalent to junk food –– it looks good, but lacks substance, and leaves the audience feeling empty. In the end, the message seems to be, “The Nun is scary because it is. Accept it.”
Annabelle: Creation (2017) – Set in 1958
Full disclosure: I think Annabelle gets more screen time than she deserves.
In the original Conjuring, she was a nice introduction to the world of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Her story serves as a warning not to invite unknown entities into your life. Then she gets a prequel and a sequel. Then this movie is a prequel to the prequel.
We find ourselves in the United States. A husband and wife lose their daughter, Annabelle, in a tragic accident. Twelve years after the accident, the couple has opened their home to six orphan girls, one of whom discovers the Annabelle doll hidden away. It is revealed the couple invited what they thought was their daughter’s spirit into the doll, but surprise! It was a bloodthirsty demon instead.
This movie contains a bit more substance than The Nun and had some good scenes, but it leans too heavily on jump scares and gore rather than compelling storytelling. It’s here that a valuable lesson to the Conjuring franchise is introduced. When it comes to horror, sometimes less is more. Sometimes not knowing everything is scarier than knowing.
Annabelle (2014)- Set in 1970
Annabelle picks up where Annabelle: Creation leaves off. Expecting couple John and Mia witness their next-door neighbours getting murdered by their adopted daughter and her satanic boyfriend.
Spoiler alert! Having just watched Creation, we know that the adopted daughter is actually one of the orphans who has lived for years possessed by the Annabelle demon. The Annabelle doll comes into their possession and shortly after, John and Mia begin experiencing paranormal events. They eventually move to a new apartment where 98 minutes of demon-filled fun ensue.
This movie is very clearly inspired by the 1968 psychological horror film, Rosemary’s Baby. While at some points the parallels are clever, at others they simply don’t work. Rosemary’s Baby is an entirely different type of horror from a different era. Annabelle also commits the grave sin of the other two movies by over-relying on jump scares.
The Conjuring (2013)- Set in 1971
This is where watching these movies in chronological order gets interesting. After three movies, the original Conjuring still stands out as the best. It’s not only a good horror movie, it’s a genuinely well-made film.
The Conjuring follows the Perron family as they call upon demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren for help following a series of paranormal events in their new Rhode Island home. The Conjuring reminds us how good horror is written and how it starts in the smallest, most chilling details. Starting with the death of the family pet and mysterious bruises on the mother’s arm, the movie builds up to a bombastic climax. The audience is left feeling thoroughly chilled and rewarded.
Watching it in chronological order, you see references to The Nun and the previous two Annabelle’s, which is fun, but The Conjuring truly works best as a standalone film.
Annabelle Comes Home (2019) – Set in 1972
By this point, I was pretty sick of Annabelle. The pessimist in me wanted to write off this entire movie because of that. To its credit, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
In the year following the events of The Conjuring, Annabelle now lives in a glass case in the Warren’s spooky artifact room in their house (yup, the Warren’s have a spooky artifact room in their house). The Warrens leave their daughter Judy in the care of her babysitter, Mary Ellen, who invites her friend Daniela over. Daniela manages to break the one household rule, which is not to go into the spooky artifact room. This inadvertently sets Annabelle free.
It’s clear here that the franchise was trying to step away from the formulaic approach they’d established in the first films: family is introduced, paranormal events begin, demon possesses someone, a demon is exorcised from said person. This movie did better with building up its story and produced some creative, and genuinely scary, moments.
The Curse of La Llorona (2019) – Set in 1973
If Annabelle Comes Home was a step away from the formulaic demon trope, La Llorona was a giant leap.
The movie begins with a flashback to 1600’s Mexico, establishing the legend of La Llorona –– which is a real story in Latin American folklore. It then flashes forward 300 years to Los Angeles, where a social worker named Anna checks in on a family that, unbeknownst to her, is being haunted by La Llorona. Anna’s actions cause her own children to become targeted by the spirit and she must work with a priest to break the curse.
If I were to rank all of these movies, I’d put this one at the very bottom, even below The Nun, because while The Nun had potential to be scary, this movie doesn’t. The stakes are incredibly low. We don’t know anything about the characters, and there’s almost no connection to the rest of the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. This movie relies more on jump scares than any other movie in the franchise. It shows us too much of La Llorona, who as an antagonist, is about as scary as a Spirit Halloween costume.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)- Set in 1977
Even if you know nothing about directors, it is abundantly clear that The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are directed by the same person. They outshine all of the other movies in the franchise. Unlike some of the others, it’s clear that effort and understanding of the horror genre went into this film (Looking at you, The Nun and La Llorona.)
The Warrens are back, this time investigating the haunting of the Hodgson family in Enfield, England. The story is loosely based on the case of the Enfield poltergeist. The Nun is back too. Like The Conjuring, this film tells a story, and builds its horror subtly and creatively. While it pales slightly in comparison to its predecessor, it still remains a good movie, and one I would recommend watching if you want to be genuinely scared.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) – Set in 1981
Like La Llorona, you can tell this is an earnest attempt by the franchise to step away from the demon trope. Rather than butchering traditional cultural folklore, they decide to dip their toes into the occult.
As in the case of the previous two Conjurings, this movie is based on a real-life case investigated by the Warrens. It begins with the exorcism of eight-year-old David Glatzel. Halfway through, the exorcism is botched and the demon possesses David’s sister’s boyfriend Arne. When Arne later murders his landlord, his lawyers claim his innocence by reason of demonic possession and the Warrens set off to collect evidence to back this up.
While not the best, this movie certainly wasn’t the worst. I didn’t love the beginning. The exorcism scenes served as great climaxes in the other Conjurings, so to start off with one was a bit jarring. The rest of the movie mainly focuses on Ed and Lorraine’s detective work, which is an interesting, logical and refreshing change of pace. However, it can feel a bit all over the place with different stories happening at once. I almost miss the haunted houses.
In conclusion, not all of these movies were fantastic, but they were fun to watch with other people. Would I ever give 14 hours of my life to the Conjuring franchise again? Absolutely not, but these movies reminded me about what good horror can be – and what it can’t.