The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third major installment of The Conjuring film franchise and the 7th in the franchise universe. The third film is based on an actual murderer, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who pleads not guilty because of demonic possession. Spoiler alert that doesn’t work. Neither does this film.
I want to start off by saying that I really do love the first two Conjuring movies. I was eager to watch the third one, but as soon as I realized that director James Wan would no longer be filming the franchise’s core films, I became skeptical. The rest of the Conjuring Universe isn’t as good as the first two core films. James Wan is the key to what makes the movie successful. He has mastered creating horror, utilizing actual jump scares, chilling scores, and building tension. The films are well-constructed based on exciting stories and antagonists like Bathsheba Sherman, Annabelle, and Valak, the demon nun. Unfortunately, there is nothing like this to be found with the third film.
My initial idea was that the film would dive into the legality of claiming demonic possession. It would give us a story of paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), struggling to prove it to the court of law. We would be sitting front row to one of the oddest trials in American history and witness the results. However, we got instead a very dull film with nearly none of those exciting elements taking hold. In fact, it’s all put on the back burner to the real story. The Warrens versus Satanism.
The Warrens take front and center in this film. You see, murderer Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) might have been possessed by a demon. Still, they already had demonic possessions in the first two films. They had to do it differently this time. Well, how about an old lady. Not an evil witch, not a demonic nun, nor a creepy doll. It’s just a weird lady with some candles and a lot of time on her hands. The Warrens act as a medium of good and Christian and now get to see the opposite. The Occultist (Eugenie Bondurant) wants to hang with the Devil and do evil things with her friends.
The Warrens are trying to prove that demonic possession can happen to prove murderer Arne Johnson’s innocence. In the suburbs of Connecticut, when exploring where the possession of murderer Arne Johnson initially happened, the Warrens discovered a mysterious totem. They meet a retired priest known as Father Kastner (John Noble), who has immense knowledge of demonology. He warns them to stop investigating. They are later contacted by the Police in another county. The Police tell them that an identical totem was found in the belongings of another victim whose culprit has since gone missing. A college student had died in the same fashion as murderer Arne Johnson’s victim had, by being stabbed 22 times.
After Lorraine does some psychic stuff to prove they are the real deal, they find the culprit had thrown themselves off a cliff, and the Police recover the body. When going to the funeral home to see the body, Lorraine does more psychic stuff, which allows The Occultist to see her. She uses this connection to attack Lorraine with her occult powers. The Occultist’s powers are whatever is convenient to the storyline. Whether it’s demon summoning, mind control, necromancy, or teleportation.
Now that they are targets of The Occultist, the Warrens have no idea what to do next. Meanwhile, murderer Arne Johnson is being harassed by demons and is attempting to kill himself. As the story progresses, we discover that this was part of The Occultist’s plan. And, the twist is that The Occultist was actually the daughter of the retired Father Kastner.
The Father had to hide her in his occult basement, leading to her finding occultism as a hobby. Why did he hide her? Because the church couldn’t find out. That’s it, her entire motivation for her actions. This leads to Lorraine running from The Occultist in Kastner’s creepy basement, which leads to some sewers where Ed ends up being possessed by a demon after the Occultist blows dust in his face. He goes off trying to murder his own wife with a sledgehammer.
No worries, the altar that controls everything evil is also down there. They conveniently manage to destroy and save one another with the power of love. The Occultist meets her demise by the same demon she summons, and all is well. Well, we still have the trial, right? Wasn’t that the whole point of this investigation?
We go back to the trial, and real-life murderer Arne Johnson is sentenced to prison for 1st-degree manslaughter. This trial lasted about 2 minutes onscreen. There’s no reasonable way to tie in such a fictional story like their battle with the Occultist and actual real-life murder.
The Conjuring 3 just fails to be scary by forgetting everything that made the first two films great, having genuine scares, compelling characters, and an actual plot. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are fantastic, reprising their roles as the Warrens, but the entire story is barely held together by a thread. A thread you don’t even know exists until climax.
The rest of the cast is scarcely memorable, with no one creating any impact. Every attempt at horror is just a poor remix of moments from the original two films. I’m sure they are already getting the script together for a fourth film. Still, without James Wan at the helm and a better story, I’ll recommend skipping that one altogether.
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