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'The Conjuring 3' Review: The Devil (Money) Made Me Do It
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'The Conjuring 3' Review: The Devil (Money) Made Me Do It

Review of 'The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It' now out in theatres.

Updated
Movie Reviews
5 min read

'The Conjuring 3' Review: The Devil (Money) Made Me Do It

'Based on a true story'. No five words have been more abused by filmmakers to sell the “truth” to their creative interpretation of history. The promotional gimmick comes with a promise that similar, if not exact, events occurred. Posters have them printed in a tinier font just below or above the in-bold title, aptly reflecting the relation between truth and fiction. The photos of the key players or tapes of them talking played at the end of the movie also give its version of the truth some legitimacy.

The Conjuring franchise has especially used these gimmicks to great effect. These horror movies have stretched the truth to certain unexplained incidents to fit the narrative that the devil exists and so does God, as its two ghostbusting superstars repeatedly insist. To sell this truth and more tickets, the movies edit out the unmarketable contradictions, and dial up the scares that make for the best horror experience.

With the creative liberties taken in the latest entry The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the more lenient sibling “inspired by a true story” would have been a far more accurate descriptor because it allows for more truth elasticity. For the threequel, directed by Michael Chaves, is only inspired by the true story of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who used demonic possession as a legal defence for stabbing a man to death.
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A still from The Conjuring - The Devil Made Me Do It.

What The Conjuring 3 obviously won’t go into is no judge in his right mind would have accepted that defence. The judge in Arne’s case sure didn’t. (The lawyers subsequently decided on a self-defence plea and Arne was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, serving five years of a 10-20 year sentence.) The trial may have made for curious viewing, but it’s entirely omitted. Because the movie wants you to believe Johnson was innocent of killing his landlord, and the demon who possessed him was guilty.

And the Warrens obviously embark on a quest to help his defence. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) meet cops and former priests, scouting for clues in dark woods, seedy basements and backdoor passages. Fittingly for a movie about possession, The Conjuring 3 suffers from a split personality, a devil’s bargain cut between two kinds of movies. There’s the Warrens’ investigation which functions like a regular procedural. And there’s the nightmarish subject of the investigation which draws on the paranoia of the ‘80s Satanic Panic. Blaming the murder on a fictional occultist proves the movie’s basis on truth is specious. This is historical fiction at best.

The stories retold in the Conjuring movies are full of insidious half-truths. One of them involves aggrandising its two paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as fabled heroes, instead of con artists profiting from tragedies.

The Warrens have often been accused of fraud. The supernatural events preceding Arne’s trial, documented in the book The Devil In Connecticut, were described as a hoax entirely fabricated by the Warrens, who misdiagnosed a mental illness as possession. With Wilson and Farmiga playing them, they seem like the most benevolent do-gooders serving a greater purpose. The devil is of course in the details. The movies play up the Warrens’ love for each other as the chief weapon in defeating the demons and Satanists they encounter — when their seemingly perfect domesticity was a fiction too, as The Hollywood Reporter revealed. Before the Warrens sold their story rights, they demanded some no-nos, which included Ed’s alleged relationship with a minor.

Recreation of the shot from The Exorcist.

Leaving the truth aside, the first of the Conjurings made an impression because it gave new life to the haunted house movie, capturing the unspeakable horrors lurking beneath the veneer of domesticity, and how they bring a family to its breaking point. The shadow of The Exorcist looms large over the new movie, which opens with a misty silhouette shot of a priest standing under a street light, facing the house where the devil resides. Inside, a child, a young boy named David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) is performing contortionist twists and screaming otherworldly wails in archaic languages. Much like in the William Friedkin classic, an older character offers his own body as sacrifice to save the child. The older character in this being Arne, whose invitation the devil accepts gladly. This essentially sets him up as the selfless guy who couldn’t have possibly stabbed another man 22 times.

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The Conjuring movies don’t really care for bothside-isms. Their effectiveness lies in our willing suspension of disbelief. The movie doesn’t even attempt to pander to the other side, that Arne could have done it without any demonic influence whatsoever. The Jesuit priest in The Exorcist at least shows some scepticism, unsure if Regan is possessed or mentally ill. There’s no room for ambiguity in The Conjuring-verse though. This is a world where people believe dolls are possessed. Nearly everyone’s a believer, and there’s no rationalist in whom the viewer can find credible repose.

The Devil Made Me Do It is also severely short of genuine scares. The previous movies proved James Wan knew how to set up a jump scare. He would place a carpet of disquiet just long enough, before pulling it from under our feet.

Chaves doesn’t use the mechanism as effectively, relying on a gratingly overpowering score to cue in the scare which ends up diluting it. There’s a scene which may temporarily hurt the sales of waterbeds, if they are still a thing. Young David jumps onto one only to be attacked by a malevolent spirit submerged underneath. The other scares are the usual bread-and-butter stuff: showers of blood, cracking of bones, etc.

Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 3.

In Hollywood’s IP incorporated, studios retain soul ownership, and rarely allow filmmakers to experiment with form and style. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It would have been a far more interesting movie if it had chosen to put faith on trial. If the court of law acknowledges God’s existence each time it asks a witness to swear solemnly on the bible, why can’t it accept the Devil does too? So argues Ed, and there was a potential comedy in trying to build on that argument in court. Now there’s a movie worth watching.

Rating: 2 Out of 5

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is running in theatres across India.

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