Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Jiulian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on a story by James Wan, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Directed by: Michael Chaves
MPAA Rating: R for terror, violence and some disturbing images
Running Time: 112
Date: 06/04/2021
IMDB

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Demonic Fatigue Syndrome

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The third in the Conjuring series and the eighth in the "Conjuring Universe" franchise, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It returns us to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who are perhaps the most adorable married paranormal investigators in cinema history.

Opening Friday, June 4 in theaters and streaming for one month on HBO Max, the new sequel, like the other Conjuring movies, is at least somewhat based on a real Warren case file.

However, the credits — "written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on a story by James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on characters created by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes" — would suggest that some fictionalizing occurred.

Not very many supernatural horror movies are based on true stories, and the ones that are, like the couple-of-hundred Amityville movies, or The Haunting in Connecticut, are not very good.

When The Conjuring, directed by James Wan, emerged in the summer of 2013, and turned out to be well above average, perhaps even close to outstanding, it sparked a little metaphysical tingle.

It was only a movie, of course, but if even the slightest little bit of it was true, wouldn't the world be a most amazing and mind-blowing place?

Wan's 2016 The Conjuring 2 was just as good, but The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It seems to have lost any curiosity about the paranormal or supernatural. It feels more like a late-series episode of The X-Files, still OK, but just a little tired.

Actually, it's hardly a horror film at all. It's more like A Few Good Men, a courtroom drama in which lawyers or detectives scramble to find the clues that will exonerate their innocent client before court resumes on Monday.

It begins in 1981, appropriately, on an exorcism in progress. A young, bespectacled boy, David (Julian Hilliard), is host to a nasty demon, who makes his body contort into impossible shapes, accompanied by a boney "clicking" sound.

The Warrens are present, as are David's older sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), and Debbie's boyfriend Arne (Ruairi O'Connor). Arne — who seems to have a special bond with the boy — grabs David and shouts at the demon, "Leave him alone! Take me!"

And everything goes quiet, but not before Ed has suffered a heart-attack.

Eventually, Ed recovers, and things seem back to normal, but suddenly Arne has visions of a family friend, Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins), as a monster attacking Debbie. He grabs a knife and stabs the monster 22 times, but there was no monster — just Bruno.

Arne goes to jail, and the Warrens manage to convince his lawyer — with one very clever edit — that he is not guilty by reason of demonic possession. The couple is then tasked with tracking down hard proof that will please a court of law.

But when the Warrens find a strange witches' totem beneath David's room, Lorraine realizes that this is no ordinary demon possession. Someone has summoned this demon.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is still a horror movie, and the director, Michael Chaves, dutifully tries to include some scares.

But as with his 2019 The Curse of La Llorona — which was the sixth film in the "Conjuring Universe" — the scares are just a little lackluster. They consist of plenty of loud, sudden "boo!" jumps, things rushing at the camera, and those skittery sound effects that were once unsettling and have become too familiar.

It follows that, given its generic scares, the movie also doesn't particularly care about any kind of connection to reality, save for a few end-title factoids, photographs, and a recording of the opening exorcism. It seems more interested in just getting through the story.

But, like any great TV show or good movie sequel, part of the reason we care at all is the Warrens. They are a fantastic team, Wilson a little bit goofy and Farmiga a little bit ethereal.

This sequel attempts to deepen their history by showing their storybook romance, meeting cute at a showing of The Three Musketeers (1948, with Lana Turner and Gene Kelly), young Ed an usher gazing into young Lorraine's eyes while tearing her ticket.

Years later, they are a funny married couple. In one scene, Ed tries to dissuade Lorraine from exploring a spiderweb-encrusted, rat-infested crawlspace, by warning her that she'll get her dress dirty.

"Just hold my purse," she says, as snappishly and as lovingly as any wife ever has.

It was clear from the first movie that these were characters worth revisiting. Now we've seen them in four movies (2019's Annabelle Comes Home was the other), and it's worth asking: are there more stories to tell? Or should we let them retire in peace?

Maybe letting them get back home, with their rumpus room filled with cursed artifacts and evil books and demon-summoning trinkets, will bring back that sense of wonder/terror, asking whether maybe there's more to this world than we know?

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