The third installment in The Conjuring film series subtitled “The Devil Made Me Do It” will be streaming on HBO Max in the U.S. from June 4th along with a theatrical release, and it’ll be released in cinemas-only on May 26th here in the U.K. This is the eighth installment overall in the increasingly far-fetched and progressively bastardised “Conjuring Universe” which contains ever-more outlandish and fictional additions in each subsequent movie, to what started out as a simple biographical horror about real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Of course the central premise of this film is based in reality; The Conjuring 3 tackles the 1981 Arne Cheyenne Johnson trail (also known as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case) where Arne killed his landlord but pleaded not guilty due to being possessed by a demon, a demon that was exorcised (in the presence of the Warrens) from an 11-year-old boy named David Glatzel…
The Warren’s book about this case resulted in litigation and the court didn’t accept the demonic possession defence, so as far as I’m concerned, there’s almost nothing to tell here. But when has Hollywood let facts get in the way of making a buck by fleshing-out paper-thin concepts? It seems to an outsider like me, that writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick has done exactly this. Apart from the beginning and the end, the rest of the film (the majority of it) is to put it mildly: bullshit. From claw marks on walls, a demon in a waterbed to Lorraine’s psychic antics on the edge of a cliff (and everything in-between including Mrs. Warren saying she met Elvis before and after he died) everything about this sequel resembles a TV-show spin-off from a movie I loved. This film isn’t really about David Glatzel or Arne Johnson; their lives are mere footnotes in a story which has more to do with curses, Satanists called the “Disciples Of The Ram”, and witch’s totems, summoned by what looks like an uptight schoolmarm. I doubt the occultist in this film existed or had anything to do with David Glatzel’s exorcism or Arne Johnson’s possession. Maybe some party-pooper at Snopes could check whether any of this shite is true. I have a feeling it isn’t.
The aforementioned waterbed scene is similar to the upturned crosses in The Conjuring 2; over-the-top and made-up. I understand there has to be space for artistic licence but utter bunkum isn’t the way to go. The main problem aside from the fictitious narrative is the lack of James Wan behind the camera. Director Michael Chaves is not a talented replacement. He may be referencing a shot from The Exorcist when Father Gordon arrives at the Glatzel’s home and there’s an Eyes Of Laura Mars-style foot-chase, but The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It isn’t in the same league. This is closer to Exorcist: The Beginning or Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist given its penchant for subtitles and failed scares. Yes, this flick has all the hallmarks of “horror” including darkness and jump-scares but none of it is effectively used to terrify the audience, which for a horror movie is a priority. Aside from the gloomy lighting and a Joseph Bishara score, most of the film is firmly in horror cliché territory; CGI-d contortionists, the sound of snapping bones, wannabe-scary hands over objects. We’ve seen it all before and we’ve seen it done better. There’s a scene in which Arne mops the prison floor which I assume he was assigned to do, but not in the bloody night when everyone’s asleep? It’s almost like logic has gone out of the barred window to make way for a jump-scare setup. When you watch the slapstick-esque scene with an overweight corpse falling flat on his face when Lorraine’s psychic-connection is severed, you may even think you’re watching a comedy.
Back when the original and best Conjuring was going strong and gaining fans, there were rumours that writers Chad and Carey Hayes were working on a sequel, involving the Warrens and the Amityville case. Given the Hayes’ decent writing paired with James Wan’s masterful direction of the first film, I was quite looking forward to this. Unfortunately that never happened. Instead Amityville was tacked-onto the Enfield haunting in The Conjuring 2 and after that overrated disappointment, we now have this terrible threequel directed by The Curse Of La Llorona’s Michael Chaves (director of one of the worst installments in the “Conjuring Universe”). Let’s be honest; the only thing holding this franchise together at this point is the jump-scares (or in this case, an attempt at creating them). Annabelle Creation‘s David F. Sandberg did a good job and of course James Wan is a horror-scare expert but every other director has offered us mundane shocks and derivative films which simply don’t compare. The Nun was so utterly appalling that I fear it was a message from whatever resides in The Warren’s Occult Museum to stop fucking with the re-telling of real supernatural and cursed objects.
The Conjuring is now an increasingly disappointing horror franchise intent on caricaturing real-life events for profit, a franchise that James Wan and co. seem to care less and less about, resulting in Friday The 13th, Halloween, or Nightmare On Elm Street-level mediocrity. Despite Arne Johnson’s trial being referenced in the title, this is something else altogether. The audible laugh I heard from the audience when it’s revealed that Arne was sentenced to prison (right before the end credits) made the preceding plot about investigation in order to vindicate someone a complete failure, but since this was the actual truth; Johnson-McGoldrick couldn’t Hollywood-ise that part of his suspect story. Maybe if this writer penned an original idea or subgenre, possibly a “courtroom horror”, this movie could have been distinctive, and they could have injected some much-needed life into this decaying series. Instead the film-makers have elected to create a new character “The Occultist” who is very much in the same vein as “The Crooked Man” (whose solo outing by the way, is in the works). Instead of screams and yelps, all I heard was sighs and giggles during this showing. I could just feel the audience praying: please God no more!
The Devil Made Them Ruin It.