Rated R, but the back of my brain is really bothering me about this. I have this weird belief that the first two movies were PG-13. I mean, I could look it up right now, but I choose not to. Mostly, this movie gets the R-rating for demonic stuff happening to kids. I mean, there's a fair share of blood in this film, so that would probably get it an R rating. From a personal point of view, this movie continues the vaguely blasphemous version of Catholicism that is part and parcel for Hollywood horror. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Chaves
The more I watch the Conjuring movies, the less I know how I feel about them. I originally thought that the Conjuring movies were trash. Like The Fast and the Furious franchise, I came into the first Conjuring movie with a whole bunch of snooty notions. (Note: I just discovered that the art house theater that I grew up going to is closing down after 40 years. Maybe writing about The Fast and the Furious and The Conjuring is part of the problem.) But I tend to kind of enjoy them. They never really hit this sweet spot for me in terms of actual greatness. I know that some people really swear by these movies, but they tend to be just okay for me.
Part of it comes from the mythology of Ed and Lorraine Warren. I'm a real skeptic. Like, a real skeptic. I used to not be. When I was in eighth grade, my research paper was on UFO phenomenon. I didn't get a great grade, if I remember correctly. But after that, I tended to be pretty darned skeptical about a lot of things. One of those things that I'm truly eye-rolly about is the idea of psychics. It's all a fine line, because as a Catholic, I have to believe in exorcism. But the notion of Ed and Lorraine Warren as lay exorcists (who really just claimed to be psychics) seems like Hollywood really scraping the "Based on a True Story" plug past the bottom of the barrel and into the hardwood floors. It's just that none of it really rings true. I absolutely adore that we have protagonists that keep returning to the franchise over and over again. But I have to say, that the Warrens aren't doing it for me. I mean, the movies keep showing you the real Ed and Lorraine and they looks like the biggest hucksters imaginable. Part of that is on me. I get that. But it all seems like so much hogwash that I'm always pulled out of these films.
But I can't deny that these movies are fun...until this one. I mean, it has the great thing that a lot of these newer horror movies have: a great third act. The one thing that Hollywood has offered us, especially the stuff like Jason Blum and Blumhouse has to offer, is a great final act. The more boring the first two acts, the more spectacular that final act is going to be. If nothing else, look at the Paranormal Activity movies. Those movies are boring as sin, but you know that demon is going to tear someone up in the final act. So as much as I'm going to complain about The Devil Made Me Do It, I'm going to give it the most basic of props and say that the final act mostly delivers in the same way that the other movies also have that going on. Whenever you have that direct confrontation between the demonic force and the protagonist, of course it will be mildly worth watching.
But The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (or as I may refer to it as The Conjuring 3 from this point on to save me the sheer capitalization of the entire title) isn't all that scary. I mean, it does the thing that these movies do really well. It offers some good contortion possessions and loves giving us a haunting image to associate with the bad guy. But the movie isn't all that scary. I actually more felt bad for the little kid actor who played David. I mean, that kid got covered in a lot of blood for the sake of a pretty lackluster movie. (Another side note: I screened this in my garage for my brother-in-law to impress him because he tends to get scared by Conjuring movies. That left me extra let down when the movie was only passable.) And the problem comes down to two factors (until I accidentally figure out more factors while writing this nonsense because I don't follow my own advice when writing my daily blog when it comes to writing an outline).
The first factor is that we've seen this before. Yeah, I just mentioned that the contortion stuff is creepy as heck. I'm going to give it some bonus points even that the contortion stuff happens to a kid. But even outside of The Conjuring franchise, this is something that was established with The Exorcist. The idea of a human moving in a way that is inhuman is naturally troubling, but we have kind of grown to expect it. Like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, we can't keep on relying on that visual sense of awe. The magic trick has been done. Variations can only keep us moving too long. The same holds true with the long gaunt image of a woman haunting the protagonists. In this movie, we have The Occultist. (I didn't realize that she was credited as The Occultist until I looked it up on IMdB. I would also like to stress that I could have easily looked up the ratings on the other Conjuring movies, but that seems like more work that I'm ready to put into this blog.) It's just The Nun all over again. And the thing is...the nun is scarier. Not the movie, of course. That movie was kind of trash. But the imagery of the nun was super duper scary and the Occultist is more of a watered down repeat of the same idea.
But the bigger problem lies in the fact that this movie has no idea what it wants to be. The marketing people knew that. The trailer made this movie look like it was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The tag / "true story" was about this trial that surrounded Arne Johnson, who claimed that he was innocent by means of demonic possession. (My wife claims that the real Arne claims so much shenanigans about the way his story was told.) So the story seemed like the events of the plot were going to be told in flashback form and we were going to have the 12 Angry Men version of a Conjuring movie. You know? Something different that we could absorb. But then it quickly sidetracked the whole thing. It offered this puzzle box that kind of lied to us. Arne isn't possessed, but he is? Then, we kind of get this antagonist who really has no proper motivation for this movie.
I'd like to point out that I'd really like this blog done before midnight. I might start really phoning it in here, but we'll see. I really don't get her motivation. I really try investing in movies and I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. The cool thing is that The Occultist is a mirror bad guy for Lorraine. That's kind of fun. But her entire character arc is that she is the child of an exorcist and she became the very thing that Daddy didn't want her to become. That's the beginning of a story, but it isn't the whole story. There really needed to be a greater tie for this character to the story because she really doesn't have anything to lose for failing, shy of being defeated by these two characters. Like, it almost comes down to mischief for mischief's sake and that doesn't make sense.
But then there's also the problem with Arne. Arne should be the central character in this story. This all ties back into the movie not knowing what it wants to do. Arne makes the mistake of welcoming in a demon into his soul to save David. Basically, he does the old sin of doing something evil to accomplish a moral good. I'm not going to talk about the principle of double effect or anything because 1) it doesn't belong here and 2) I really got distracted down a Facebook video hole for about an hour. But Arne is the sympathetic character that we should be caring about. He's the one who made an honest mistake. Sure, that mistake is one that we all screamed at the screen about. But Arne then becomes this real background character in his own story. There's this desperate shift to try to get back to the format of the other Conjuring movies and it is just this mistake. The movie really really really wanted this problem to be a story about the Warrens, but all of the stakes for the Warrens are artificially placed on them. It doesn't really make for good storytelling. But instead, we have this villain who mirrors Lorraine (which I already established was fun, but she doesn't have a personal connection) and a heart problem for Ed, that despite being a problem that Ed really had, seemed really convenient for the bulk of the story. Ed's heart problems and feebleness faded or returned as the story needed to be told.
I want to say that the movie could have done something with the Ed versus Lorraine ending, but it didn't really set up anything for that kind of story to be played out here with the exception of the forced flashback. I know I can't be the only person who said "They're showing this because one of them will have to remind the other one of their past to bring them out of something" right? It just all seems like it has elements of cool stuff, but refused to commit to any of them. And I really knew that Ed and Lorraine were going to be safe despite Ed's heart problems. Do you know why? This might be the most insulting thing that I could write on this blog, but I don't mean it to be. Here is goes: The Conjuring films are keeping Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga at the right level of celebrity. Neither one of them has exploded into Avengers level popularity like Robert Downey, Jr. or Chris Evans. The Conjuring movies are Farmiga and Wilson's way to keep doing what they want with their lives. These movies make a lot of money, but not ungodly amounts of money (pun intended). That means that it would take a lot for these characters to move on from these films. It's a bummer because those kinds of stakes are needed to tell a compelling story. But that's not what is happening.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Hey! I never called it Conjuring 3 since I said that I would) is typical of the third entry in a franchise. It's getting a little stale. It doesn't really offer anything new. The stakes seem artificial. It actually makes me question how good the first two entries really are...because I'm just removed enough to requestion everything.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.