The Conjuring 3 review: Just as scary, but twice as silly
The EIGHTH movie in The Conjuring Universe arrives in Irish cinemas next week.
Within the universe of The Conjuring, there appears to be two universal truths, at least according to these movies: (1) God and the Devil definitely exist, and (2) the Warrens are gold-hearted heroes.
There are arguments to be made on both those points, in terms of those who don't have the same beliefs as the Warrens, using prayer, the Bible, and religion as swords and shields against the Devil and his demons. Additionally, there have been plenty of accusations levelled against the Warrens that they were potentially nothing more than attention-hungry charlatans.
If there was ever a case from their files that lent itself to the Warrens being put under closer scrutiny in one of these movies, then it is the one at the centre of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which focuses on the first time in American history that demonic possession was used as a defence in a murder trial.
However, after two of their own movies, as well as five (and counting) spin-offs, The Conjuring's grasp on the opening title of "Based on true events" seems more tenuous than ever, with the scares still in place but plot wrapped around them on par with an Annabelle sequel. And let us remind you, that was a movie about a haunted doll, and not about an actual, real-life murder trial.
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We kick off mid-exorcism, with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) casting a demon out of a young boy. What most people fail to notice is that the demon didn't go back to hell, but instead set up shop inside the young boy's future uncle Arne (Ruairi O'Connor). It is only a few weeks later, when police pick up Arne covered in blood, and no memory of committing a violent murder, that the Warrens realise their job isn't quite done.
The usual plot of a haunted house and unhappy souls is banished here, replaced by a story of devil worship and the occult. There is plenty of fear to be garnered by this brand of horror - Kill List, In The Mouth Of Madness, The Witch, and Hereditary all pulled it off with massive success - but for some reason, it doesn't stick the landing here.
Scary set-pieces are present and correct and as handsomely produced as ever, with the sense that the folks behind this movie have spent some actual money getting this thing made, which is becoming ever rarer in the horror genre. But overall sense of foreboding, the constant threat of something scary happening, is almost entirely gone. You know exactly when the scares are coming because the movie practically puts up signs saying "Scary Bit Happening Now".
And the occult stuff just never resonates in the way that it should. We're never given a reason behind their actions, or why these particular victims were chosen. There is an interesting fork in the road, when we're properly introduced to the movie's antagonists, and we see they're basically evil versions of Ed and Lorraine, but the movie decides to take the less interesting path and we get zombies in a morgue instead. Yep. Zombies. In a "based on true events" Conjuring movie.
Series director James Wan steps aside to let Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) take over, and Wan's absence is sorely missed. With Chaves behind the wheel, this feels more like a cover band than the real deal. A decent cover band, but a cover band all the same.
Wilson and Farmiga are as natural and likeable as ever in their roles, so pleasing together that we have to keep reminding ourselves their not a couple in real life, and the whole endeavour is entirely watchable, but also entirely forgettable. Aside from a reminder that water beds are the absolute worst, The Conjuring 3 is lacking the spark and essence of the first two movies focused on The Warrens. Turns out the devil was in the details...
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It arrives in Irish cinemas on Monday, 7 June.
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Clips via WB UK & Ireland