Summer of Horror: The Conjuring 3 OK, fine, The Devil Made Me Do It

The Conjuring 3 (or, officially, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It; a clunky title if there ever was one) wound up being one of the dozen or so Warner Bros. tentpole films that would definitely have debuted in theaters in any other year. But we got that pandemic on… so to HBO Max it went. Which works out well for me because these days, well… as much as I will advocate for the continued existence of movie theaters for the rest of my life, I find it tough to find the time to go to one anymore. (Why do you think A Quiet Place 2 isn’t on the list this year?)

I have to confess something before I get started: I was a little drunk and extremely tired when I fired this movie up, so forgive my fogginess on some of the details.

Like the other two Conjuring films, this one uses a “””factual””” event as the springboard for its story. I used triple quotations on “factual”, because they’ve always had the thinnest possible connection to reality in these movies, and honestly, since we’re dealing with ghosts and witches and demonic possessions, it would be silly to expect a grounded, even-handed account. These are essentially those haunted house rollercoaster rides you sometimes see at carnivals, but in cinema.

This is in fact based on a real murder case in which the defendant claimed innocence by way of demonic possession, and the infamous Ed and Lorraine were involved in some capacity. But of course, in this retelling, anybody in the vicinity of the event would be able tell that, yes, of course this was obvious demonic possession. We see an exorcism performed, we see a man invite the demon to leave the host body and come into his own, we see the guy convulse violently at the same time the original host is cured, and then we see the guy acting strangely from that point forward. Open and shut!

But of course the Warrens have to try to prove this in a court of law – which even the movie’s pre-credits text wrapup admits didn’t work out – so off they go on another spooky adventure! What follows is less of a housebound affair than previous Conjurings, but still manages to feel like it’s hitting all the same beats all over again. The slow, quiet buildups, jump scares, and surprise reveals of up-close spookies are doled out with familiar rhythms. There’s an actual human antagonist this time around though, who is responsible for all the witchey happenings and demon possessions and mysterious totems that keep popping up, so that’s new.

I haven’t bothered to see the lesser Conjuring-verse movies – The Nun and La Llorona – but between three Conjurings and three Annabelles, the formula is starting to feel a little stale. I guess I should be grateful that, of all the movie franchises that have attempted to ape Marvel’s success by creating “universes”, this is actually the most successful one. And the reliable box office takes keep horror cinema healthy, so hats off to that. But I think it’s time to start taking some bigger risks. The MCU started to feel like it was running out of gas after the first Avengers movie, and it took embracing wild ideas that seemed like they could never work (and then executing them well, of course) for it to maintain its potency. The Conjuring 3 is a fine horror flick, but I hope to see some more unexpected territory explored in the next installment.

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