I don't know if contemporary filmmakers are aware of it, but if they decide to set their films in the '70s, some of the affordments of that time are going to make them have to work harder to simply get a good scare from us. Who would you expect to have a more tenacious hold on that house, for example? The ghosts from Salem, or us from 2013, who've just been shown a New England home just a notch or two downscaled from being a Jeffersonian estate, that a single-income truck driver with some savings can afford? Seriously, though it's easy to credit that the father—Roger Perron—would get his family out of that house as fast as he could when trouble really stirs, we'd be more apt to still be wagering our losses—one dead dog, a wife accumulating bruises, some good scares to our kids—against what we might yet have full claim to. The losses will get their nursing—even the heavy traumas, maybe—if out of this we've still got a house—really, a kingdom—multimillionaires might blanche at trying to acquire, while at a time when even those a scale up from truck-drivers probably can't even afford a runt house and are surely just renting, like runt peasants of old.
Normally, I think it's likely that if everyday sort of people are presented to us in film, we're more likely to identify with them, and wish ourselves more akin to whatever more possessed—cooler—characters are also about. Not so true with this film, though, as Ed and Lorraine Warren—the paranormal experts—are about as chastised and wary as we tend to be. They are the type who when they describe their wedding night sex, sound like those who if they added a few extra raisons in with their porridge would feel like they've made a guilty trespass, with pleasure beyond that, something they're now permanently apart from. They are the type who can make their basement into a hold for a Dante's Inferno worth of evil-possessed artifacts, each one a trauma of a whole family (at least) being slaughtered, and have it not feel like they have too much to be concerned about. There's a kind of immunity to further harm, it would seem, if you go about like as if you've already ingested your life's portioned quantity of it before you've even seen much grey hair reflected back at you in the mirror. If life has poisoned you near mortally when you're still at the point where you should still resonate optimism and promise, all the demonic uglies will part around you in thorough disinterest and seek preferable prey—something that will empower you as if a pillar they've got to nonetheless still recognize and be inconvenienced by in their having to go around, and a lesson which also felt right in if-you-ingest-yourself-with-malaria-it's-likely-you're-going-to-be-okay World War Z. The Devil is interested in those who affront by being ripe with life—not, that is, with you.
The Perron family is that, however. With their large brood, pet dog, ambitious home, and pretentions to being entirely self-sufficient and nuclear, they're the post-war American dream. And so they're exactly the sort the Devil would chase down even if they didn't set up shop in one of his Earthly abodes. This is effectively what happens in the film, by the way—someone's being chased down. Only in this film it's after what one person in particular has achieved for herself: the mother, Carolyn. She has achieved a glorious family, with her favorite life moment being a time with them at the beach, with it already clear to her that with them she had everything she'd ever wanted. This moment is used to lend strength to her when it looked like she was going to go all witch, but it is also the one that ensured her a regressed, beauty-shunted, generation-older woman would afflict her by trying to undo it as well. The great beast in this film is simply a mother's mother. We don't traffic in psychology which once had the momentum and the guts to face it, but when pretty much every mother has a child, she has simultaneously something all her own as well as a cruel visit by someone—her mother—telling her to dispatch it, slit its throat or beat it senseless, and come back fully to her. It's near every woman's experience, as she desists against her mother's need to continue lifelong supplying her her own unmet needs for attention and love, and instead presumptively chases down her own; and it's something science and-so-not-just-folklore has fortunately pinned down as an actual existing thing we all have to reckon with—specifically, the postpartum.
Few women talk about it, but it's something nearly all women near at conscious level come to know. And which their guys will no doubt remain oblivious to, as women decide sharing would show themselves devils to faces that will never, ever, understand, and remove them from life anchors needed to compact the great acquisition of their own family down. So couples go about their child-blessed, married lives, never shorn of near-justified mockery, represented by what lies beneath. She's out there, though. Your spurned mother is out there. And from unaddressed quarters in places you have the good sense to be wary of, she's hoping still to hatch her requisition for your love and the full loss of everything you preferred to have lent your love to.
P.S. One of the comforts in the film is in its instructing us on how much better it is to desist in anything hubris, and instead join convention. We've got two paranormal researchers ... who bow completely to Catholic tradition. It's like they're not so much aberrant as they are representative, of what a church has taken seriously for centuries before the modern fuck-you. They're all fidelity, that is. And in this film, along with being—tenement-like—amongst a crowd of other people, an extended family rather than selfishly nuclear, doesn't this feel like the safe place to be? That is, when the Catholic church agrees with the researchers—seems of the same base perspective and wave-length—don't we feel sorry for those who were never baptized and have now got to depend on leniency to not be left to being tortured and soul-fucked by a scary-as-shit assassin, in complete sadistic control?
I'm not a Catholic, and in fact on my own time read the presumptuous, self-satisfying John Updike, who would seem to support every self-pleasure, every I-love-you-honey-but-your-concerns-and-needs-are-not-exactly-being-factored-here orgasm, that would make a Catholic fret and recoil from upon witnessing, but this film will move me to cross myself a bit more in public, I suspect. I think I'm going to need to have some of the demon-possessed—even if only the dumber ones—presume me one of their own. I'm just one brick amongst a heraldic company of others. Don’t tell me all alone I might be sandstone serendipitous sculpture!