Hello, everyone! People are getting vaccinated, theaters are opening, and there’s a new Conjuring movie out, which means that everything is right in the world. A few years ago I wrote a rather negative review of The Conjuring 2, but now I’m evening out that score with a positive review of the third installment in the series, The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It. Did the Devil make me write this blog post? Maybe he did. Keep reading to find out.
Synopsis: Self-proclaimed “demonologists” and couple goals duo Ed and Lorraine Warren are back, this time to investigate the source of a demonic possession taking place in Brookfield, Connecticut. When a demon possessing 10-year-old David Glatzel suddenly disappears during an exorcism, the Warrens realize that it has transferred to Arne Johnson, the fiancé of David’s older sister. A few days later, Johnson commits a violent crime, and his lawyer uses demonic possession as his defense. Determined to prove Johnson’s innocence, Ed and Lorraine travel deep into the world of the Occult to figure out who summoned the demon and stop them from wreaking more havoc.
My thoughts: If you thought that the Conjuring 2 lacked enough cobwebs, creepy basements, and dust piles to be properly scary, then you’ll be more than pleased to see that The Devil Made Me Do It is bringing back the dirt. This movie has everything: grimy crawlspaces, crumbling underground tunnels, and dimly-lit farmhouses that haven’t seen a vacuum in centuries. The yellow crawling opening titles are back with a vengeance to instill some 70s-style vintage dread in your heart, and we even get a one-shot moving-in sequence that’s a cute throwback to the moving sequence in the first film. While The Conjuring 2 showed a marked aesthetic departure from the first film, The Conjuring 3 is a visual redux of the first movie, only with worse costuming for Lorraine.
Loosely based (and I mean loosely) on the true murder trial of Arne Johnson, the movie provides an entertaining mashup of traditional horror movie, courtroom drama, Satanic panic flick, and middle-aged romance. Depending on how much you enjoy each of those genres, your mileage on this movie might vary, but as someone who gets equal pleasure from watching Lorraine run screaming from a horrific vision, and seeing her lovingly pack Ed’s heart medicine in her locket, I had a great time watching this movie. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga continue to paint a convincing picture of mature romance, and it’s heartwarming to see such a devoted couple fight together to battle evil, but still make time for a relationship arc.
The creep factor of this movie lies in the Occult, and while I found it to be scarier than the second movie, it’s a lot tamer than the first. There are a few clever scares, most notably involving a water bed, but nothing that compares to iconic scares in the first two movies like the wardrobe witch scene or the squirm-inducing nun painting sequence. The Conjuring 3 alternates its scares by hitting the viewer with scenes filled with intense sensory overload, and then raising the hair on their necks with slowly creeping moments of dread. Director Michael Chaves doesn’t have James Wan’s genius for terrorizing the viewer, but he does an admirable job at creating fear through sound, shadow, and silence. If I had to rate the movie’s scariness from La Llorona to Insidious on my personal Conjuring Universe scariness scale, I’d have to say it’s closer to La Llorona, which means that it’s creepy and might make you jump, but it won’t leave you cursing the day you saw it.
While the scares are weaker than in the previous two films, I found the script and plot to be more engaging than in the second film, and with better character development than the first. Screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick throws a wrench in the usual dynamic by incapacitating Ed in the first act, and leaving Lorraine to take the lead in the investigation. While the second film made Ed and Lorraine more into participants than bystanders in other’s demonic problems, this third installment fully shows the danger inherent in the Warren’s work, and raises the stakes for their relationship. Like the other two films in the series, The Conjuring 3 deals with themes like human morality, efficacy of the Catholic Church, and spiritual doubt. A more sophisticated film might have tried to pit the Warren’s belief in demons against the possibility that Johnson’s story of possession-fueled violence might be fake, and an even better film would have gone in-depth into Johnson’s trial, but The Conjuring 3 is first and foremost a horror movie, not a courtroom drama, so we get more creepy crawlies than we get profound statements on the limitations of the justice system to prove true guilt or innocence. If you’re really interested in the nitty gritty of the trial, you can just read the Wikipedia page. Spoiler: they never proved the existence of demons.
The weakest part of the movie is the villain, whose frightening persona was undercut by a severe lack of motivation. As if to explain this, one character in the movie even says that the “why” of evil is always less important than the “what,” but to someone who loves a good backstory, I was disappointed by the movie’s disinterest in writing a less superficial villain. Additionally, like all Conjuring movies, there are a few cheesy jump scares and bizarre one-liners that are more likely to make you giggle than scream, but even this awkwardness is endearing.
Final thoughts: Your enjoyment of this film depends on how much you like genre-blending and the Warrens. If you’re interested in the development of their story arc, and enjoy a few good scares now and then, then this is the movie for you. But if you want something as terrifying and brutal as the first Conjuring movie, this one will be a disappointment. It’s definitely a departure from the quality of the first movie, but maybe it’s a breather before we get The Conjuring 4: The Devil Made Me Do It Again.