- Platform: HBO Max
- Release Date: 4/5/21
- Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, John Noble
- Director: Michael Chaves
“The Conjuring 3: The Devil made me do it” case is recreated with honesty and skills but lacks the punch that it needed
On November 24, 1981, in Brookfield, Connecticut, Arne Cheyenne Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for the killing of his landlord, Alan Bono. His defence lawyers defended him by arguing that he was possessed by a demon during the incident and that what he did was forced upon him against his free will. Arne was convicted nevertheless as the Judge and Jury believed that such a thing could never be proved beyond reasonable doubt and with sufficient evidence. However, Arne’s defence presented enough shocking material and evidence in the court to create reasonable doubts in the minds of the jury and judge to make them give Arne a much lesser sentence than what the prosecution was gunning for. In the end, He did only 5 years in Jail. This was nothing less than a victory for the defence who pleaded with – the never heard before theory – of committing a crime under the possession of a demon. This case immediately achieved notoriety for obvious reasons and has been fresh in the memories of people who are interested in such subjects ever since. It is in this case that the latest instalment of the much-revered Conjuring universe is based.
Paranormal Investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are brought in to help in the case of an 11-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) who is possessed by a demon in the house that his family has recently acquired. During his exorcism, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), who is David’s elder sister’s boyfriend, foolishly communicates with the demon and offers it to possess him instead of the kid David. The demon obliges. Ed witnesses the incident but has a heart attack at the same instance. This doesn’t allow him to pass over the information. Once he gains his consciousness, the first words out of his mouth to Lorraine are about Arne’s possession but despite that, Lorraine is unable to stop Arne from killing his landlord under the influence of the demon. Arne is arrested, charged with murder, and is looking at life imprisonment or worse a death sentence. Ed and Lorraine now take it upon themselves to dig deeper into the case and gather enough evidence to convince the judge and jury that Arne was, in fact, possessed by a demon.
Conjuring 3 feels as much like a horror film as it does like an investigation drama. Arne’s future is dependent on whether or not Ed and Lorraine can gather enough evidence to prove the possession. To do that, Ed and Lorraine have to trace back the incidents to the possession of David and how he came to be possessed. Their search leads them to an evil cult of Satanists who summon demons through totems and elaborate ceremonies. However, what they are unable to find is who might be conducting these ceremonies and the where, why, and how of it. One discovery leads to another and soon it becomes apparent that there have been cases in the past that are interlinked and may have built up to what we are seeing unfold. Thus the film proceeds like an investigation drama until its very last scene and the horror elements are interwoven in the things that we see Ed and Lorraine discover, face, and endure.
These are the portions of the film that are engaging and are so well done that it brings back memories of the best Conjuring universe films. There is a prolonged sequence in a hospital/mortuary that crawled under my skin in more ways than I want to ever remember. The way this scene culminates is also something that made me nearly have a heart attack. The scene proceeds at a slow pace and just like a well-orchestrated musical performance, gradually swells to a crescendo that not only leaves the audience exasperated but also panting for more. The same can be said about the climax of the film that takes place in a dungeon and is so intelligently lit that the biggest source of fear is the devil lurking in the shadows and our inability to see it but feel its presence nevertheless.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have always been the best things about the Conjuring films. Their performances and impact on the films have been more profound than the horror elements and the shocking true stories that these films have tried to tell over the years. Conjuring 3 is no different. In this film, the bond and love between the two are challenged more than ever and the two have to lie back time and again on each other to gain solace and strength.
We get glimpses of their past and how they came to be in love and these sequences add a lot to their current dynamics. The fact that Ed has a heart attack in the very first scene of the film and its impact boils down on him all through the narrative is yet another interesting choice that worked for me. He gets tired by a brisk walk in the woods, and to see the same man go after a furious demon in the climax was interesting. This factor increased the stakes for the Warrens and especially Lorraine who has to defend her husband from time to time. It’s also nerve-wracking for Ed every time Lorraine is in harm’s way and his body just wouldn’t comply with his urge to do anything to save his wife.
My only problems with the film were in the fact that it lacks the sense of urgency that made the first two Conjuring films so great and that has to do with the character that we must care for to feel the tension. Ruairi O’Connor plays Arne with honesty and a lot of energy but unfortunately, he was unable to make me care for the character. I couldn’t care less for his safety and survival and that liquidated a lot of tension that was necessary to make the proceedings of the film thrilling and engrossing. Even Ed and Lorraine are never in any real sense of danger and whatever we see them come up against we know that they will pull through and they do. The stakes are never raised.
The film also doesn’t have the trademark atmospheric eerie feel associated with its visuals and sound design that made the previous Conjuring films a disturbing and uncomfortable watch. While they are able to maintain the same plush and authentic feel of the 70s-80s, it serves no other purpose than looking good. This was supposed to be the scariest case of the Warrens but that is not how I felt.
The Conjuring 3 would have been better in the hands of James Wan. He is a master storyteller who can bring something new to the feel of a film from almost nothing and that is something that was desperately needed here. There is an interesting and horrifying story here but it needed to be told in a different way that would have been more impactful. Just like any naïve consumer, I do not know what that correct way could have been until I was shown it but I know for sure that it exists and I feel that James Wan would have definitely cracked it. The Conjuring 3 is still an interesting watch and might even scare some of the viewers who are new to the genre.
Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)