(2021) Horror (New Line) Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Shannon Kook, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Keith Arthur Bolden, Steve Coulter, Vince Pisani, Ingrid Bisu, Andrea Andrade, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Sterling Jerins, Paul Wilson, Charlene Amoia, Nick Massouh, Stella Doyle. Directed by Michael Chaves
The third Conjuring film (and the eighth in the franchise overall) is a bit of a seismic shift from the previous films. James Wan, who directed the first two Conjuring films, knows how to develop a good creepy atmosphere as well as a decent scare. He is sorely missed here.
The movie opens with demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of 11-year-old David Glatzel (Hilliard), attended by David’s parents (Paul Wilson, Amoia), his sister Debbie (Hook) and her boyfriend Arne Cheyenne Johnson (O’Connor). Things get dicey and during the ritual, Ed suffers a massive heart attack. While he’s on the edge of consciousness, he witnesses Arne imploring the demonic presence to leave the boy’s body and come inside him, which the spirit does.
Shortly thereafter, Arne gets into a dispute with his landlord (Blevins) and stabs him together. As Ed recovers and tells Lorraine what happened, the police arrest a stunned Arne who suspects he’s done something terrible. The Warrens convince Arne’s lawyer that Arne wasn’t responsible for his actions; literally, the devil made him do it. It’s one thing to claim that, and another to prove it. They consult a leading expert, Father Kastner (Noble) who leads them down an unexpected path where a malevolent occultist (Bondurant) awaits.
The first half of the movie is largely focused on Arne, Debbie and David, turning to the Warrens once the grisly crime is committed. The film’s strength is in the performances of Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who effectively capture the deep affection, mutual respect and abiding love – not to mention Catholic spiritualism – of the couple. There are those who believe the Warrens were con artists; I won’t make a judgment one way or the other, but the two actors portray the Warrens as we would like them to have been (they’ve both since passed on).
Like the other films in the series, the story is only loosely based on what actually happened. In real life, the presiding judge immediately rejected the plea of not guilty by reason of demonic possession, stating (quite correctly) that it wasn’t provable. Johnson and his lawyer instead offered a self-defense plea and eventually ended up convicted of manslaughter and served five years of a ten to twenty year sentence before being paroled. Both Arne and his wife Debbie, who are still married today, confirm the Warrens’ version, although other members of the family have disputed this, most notably Carl Jr., David’s brother, who doesn’t appear in the film, who sued the author of the book The Devil in Connecticut for defamation of character and invasion of privacy. The author, Gerald Brittle, who received much input from the Warrens and whose book is listed as the basis for the film. Regardless of who you believe, you do know that things get embellished in these movies to make them more cinematic, right?
Chaves continues to develop the relationship between Ed and Lorraine but he isn’t as adept as Wan at creating tension and delivering on genuine scares. He relies a great deal on jump scares and at the end of the day, those are the cheapest of all, the horror equivalent of tripping on a banana peel. Plus, the movie just feels unfocused, as if the director’s mind was on his grocery shopping list more than on the film. Also, the big bad – the Occultist – isn’t fleshed out very much. She’s just EE-VILLE and the somewhat monotonous delivery of Bondurant doesn’t help matters. This is the weakest film of the trilogy by far to date; hopefully they can convince Wan to return and direct the next one – if indeed there is a next one.
REASONS TO SEE: Farmiga and Wilson continue to make an effective pair.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not as focused as previous entries in the franchise.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images, scenes of terror and brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chaves previously directed The Curse of La Llorona which is peripherally related to the Conjuring universe.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (until July 4)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/28/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews; Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: God Told Me To
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Super Frenchie