Movies like The Conjuring turn me into a cold, wet beach towel. First off, I’m leery of anything that boasts of being based on real events, and then proceeds into two hours of supernatural, CGI’d hooey. Furthermore, the film hitches itself to the casually zealous commitment of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who serve as the nexus of this lucrative little horror universe. The Warrens are depicted as intractable believers, and to get proper entertainment out of these movies, we have buy in as well. Unfortunately, I’m over here like that Futurama meme, where the guy goes squinty with mounting skepticism: Are they serious? I mean, they can’t really think that somebody did murder at the behest of a hell-forged demon. Or…can they? We’ll loop back around to that in a minute.
In the meantime, let’s unpack the story itself: This third conjugal visit takes us to 1981, a heady time when the music of Eddie Money effectively bottled the cultural zeitgeist in three minute vignettes. Ed and Lorraine (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who run a mom-and-pop riff on the Ghostbusters, travel to another nice, WASPY family to perform another nice, WASPY exorcism. Little David (Julian Hilliard) has been possessed by some devil-beast, leaving his parents (Paul Wilson and Charlene Amoia) and sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) feeling helpless to stop it. So, Ed tosses out a little Scripture and slings some Holy Water, but the monster is too powerful for all that.
In a moment of desperation, Debbie’s boyfriend Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) steps in and offers to take David’s place as host for the hell-beast. The demon obliges, and the little boy is left alone. Side note: I’ve heard of guys going to extremes to impress their ladies, but doing the proverbial Cha Cha Slide with a minion of Satan is taking it to a whole other level. Anyway, everything is hunky dory for a while, until the creature begins to torment Arne. Dark thoughts enter his head, compelling him to murder and suicide. He gets into a tussle with his scraggly, obnoxious landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins), and murders him during the chaos.
Arne is found wandering the roads, with only a vague understanding of what just happened. The Warrens analyze the evidence, and conclude that the homicide must’ve been the work of David’s poltergeist. As a result, for the first time in American jurisprudence, someone tries to elude a murder charge by claiming demonic possession. Now, Ed and Lorraine have to clear David of wrongdoing, and stop the monster before it claims another victim.
The Devil Made Me Do It is a perfectly adequate way to kill 112 minutes. The story moves at a decent pace, and Wilson and Farmiga have been at these roles long enough to make their chemistry look easy. Fans of the other Conjuring flicks may find enough in this one to keep them satisfied.
Still, something about all this just doesn’t butter up my breadsticks. Yeah, I know this isn’t supposed to be a David Lean flick, and I should probably check my brain out and go along with it. But it just bugs me that this is plucked from an actual case: Arne Johnson was a real person, and he stood trial for killing someone. This feels like a cheap, sensationalized account of those events. It’s one-sided and one-dimensional. The filmmakers reach a swift conclusion that Arne was possessed, and therefore innocent. I would’ve loved–and God help me, I can’t avoid the pun–for the script to play devil’s advocate, and present the prosecution’s argument to the Warrens’ claims.
Instead, we’re stuck with a movie–and a franchise–that goes all in on those claims. They’re real, these stories happened, and that’s all there is to it. I suspect real scrutiny would torpedo this whole franchise, and that’s why we don’t hear any. (I don’t know if anyone has tried to mythbust the bejeezus outta these movies, but I’d love to hear about it.) As it is, The Conjuring 3 asked me to suspend more disbelief than I was able, and the result is a film I didn’t find particularly scary.
112 min. R. HBOMax.