Finally, after months of waiting, I got to see a movie in a movie theater! For those who forgot, a movie theater is a place with big screens, big speakers, comfy seats, and tasty treats, where strangers gather to watch movies – and what better movie to watch in a big, dark, cold room with a big screen and Atmos sound than a horror movie. As it turns out, a new Conjuring movie is out, so I went to see it. This is a weird one; not getting a number at the end, but also not a spin-off, because it stars returning stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens and focuses on another case they took on, and quality-wise it falls in that middle ground as well. Not a mainstream horror classic like the numbered Conjuring movies, but also not as bad as the spin-offs; it’s a good movie that tries something vastly different with the Conjuring formula. Its not always successful and it doesn’t match the quality of its predecessors, but it is still a solid horror movie that is a blast and a great reason to go back to the theaters (hopefully vaccinated and still very careful).
The Conjuring: The Devil made me do it (I’ll call it Conjuring 3 from now on just for brevity and convenience) is a continuation of the reimagining of infamous cases from the Warrens’ history, this time dealing with the notorious “The Devil made me do it” case of Arne Johnson. Michael Chaves, of “The curse of La Llorona” fame, acts as director with James Wan producing and writing. Even from the beginning, you can tell that this is the Conjuring, but with a different style; previous Conjuring movies took their time to set up their location, cast of characters, build tension, bring viewers on the same page. Conjuring 3 starts of with a bang; 5 minutes in and we are thrust into a case where the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been and the scares are as unsettling and “lean on the back of your chair and wait for the horrors” as they’ve ever been. This is the kick off of the first half of the movie that I found enthralling; it is that Conjuring magic of being terrified yet glued to the screen. The Warrens have so much more going on in this movie and in the first half, in particular, they are faced with a lot more pressure; not only do they have to protect themselves from an extremely deadly and unpredictable foe, they also have to help Arne prove his demonic possession in front of a court, and they are still recovering from the sudden heart-attack of Ed and his fragility afterwards. While all of these strings are being pulled, the pacing and tension excel, but Wilson and Farmiga keep it all together and shine simultaneously; they are, without a doubt, the best part of the movie. Their chemistry is beyond doubt, their connection feels like that of a couple so dedicated to each other, they are willing to face death in order to keep each other safe. They cannot help the movie in the second half though.
I’m not going to go into spoiler territory for this, so I will say that once the Warrens start travelling, I started finding it harder to care and then I got bored. Part of this is due to the horror aspects not being up to par with previous, mainline Conjuring entries; Wan is an absolute master and very few would compare with him in this regard, but what I hated about this Conjuring is the fact that every scare was the same: The lights dim, the sound fades out, then something rans towards the camera. That may sound harsh, as most mainstream horror is exactly that, but the movie seriously never mixes it up and during the second half, there were a lot of moments where the danger descaled drastically; there were fake scares and mildly troubling scares, but going from the first minutes of the movie, where the stakes are ‘fighting for someone’s soul’ to ‘fake scare of girls running out of the dark to loud violins’ is disappointing if it happens once, but it certainly happens more than that. The second half also tasks the Warrens with figuring out the location and identity of a certain individual (who is even made out to be an adversary, rather than a danger), which has them solving a case and gathering clues all over the place; in my opinion, this is a fundamental shift in horror styles that I disliked. This requires the Warrens to make late discoveries (which would have been part of a montage in previous movies), get extra information, and then act upon that, unlike the blistering fast pace of the opening and the heightened stakes it sets up. Moreover, this is the Conjuring movie that showed me scenes that broke my suspension of disbelief, and whose ending I found to be kind of silly; just for context, I don’t follow a religious belief, so the Conjuring is not about me believing what I’ve been seeing is true, but Wan did a great job at making everything feel consistently grounded in the movie’s version of reality with a plausible deniability in place. The first Conjuring movie has witnesses that are active participants of what has happened, so any skeptic would cite bias of faith or motivation for misrepresenting what happened and I quite like that; those movies are scary as hell and because of that plausibility (meaning that no one without an interest can report or prove exactly what happened), they feel more real. The ending sequence of Conjuring 3, which is split into two equally silly segments, just made the words “based on true events” flash before my eyes, but the damage was done before that, in a morgue scene that I found particularly off-color with the general vibe of the Conjuring universe.
I could go on and on about the minute details that horror fans obsess over, but that would require a spoiler warning, which I don’t want to give because this isn’t a “this movie is bad” sort of discussion, but a “this movie is only good, because of…” sort of discussion. When compared to the previous mainline Conjuring movies, it doesn’t hold up; when compared to the spin-offs it is of a different class. There are things that this movie does better than any of the Conjuring movies, like that wonderful relationship the Warrens have being given a new dimension and a lot of screen time to truly resonate with the audience. In the end though, I expect more from a Conjuring movie; I don’t expect “good”, I expect “great”, and the difference of the two is in the details. It is trying and succeeding with different types of scares, it is the consistency, it is about picking a pace and a delivery method for tension and anxiety, and sticking to it; it is caring for the Warrens, the Annabelles and the Nuns of the Universe, as much as we should care for the families tormented by them. I am a bit disappointed by The Conjuring: The Devil made me do it, but only because it is a good movie, in a franchise whose mainline entries have been at least excellent.