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HIGH COURT THE DEVIL
The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It (15)
Director: Michael Chaves
Screenplay: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor
Review: Dave Stephens
As far as horror franchises go, The Conjuring is a pretty unlikely and oddball variant. But the movie "universe", built around the central figures of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, has unexpectedly flourished since the original film did damned fine business in 2013. The Annabelle sub-franchise (is that a thing?) may have reached trilogy status first, but the Warrens are back with another particularly dark incident in their careers. Fine character actors Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as Ed and Lorraine, and equally fine thespian John Noble appears in a cameo role. It's directed by Michael Chaves, who made the "forgotten" entry in the "Conjuring Universe", namely The Curse of La Llorona in 2019. James Wan keeps his hand in the horror pie by acting as producer and writer of the story. Out now in UK cinemas and from June 4 in the US at theatres and on HBO Max, we look at the Warrens latest shenanigans.
It's 1981, and the Warrens are deeply involved in the exorcism of a young boy called David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard from The Haunting of Hill House). The matter seems resolved, but this turns out not to be the case when Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O'Connor) suddenly commits a vicious crime that seems totally out of character. As the Warrens look into the affair, they advise Arne to plead "not guilty" in court by reason of "demonic possession". The investigation leads to a nefarious villain who appears to be targeting individuals and might have the Warrens in their sights next.
The previous two Conjuring films had jump-scare prologues (Annabelle & Amityville) that were separate from the main plotline. That's not the case here, and the darker direction of the botched exorcism indicates that this entry has a slightly different format and tone from its predecessors. That being said, it's not afraid to wear its heart (and influences) on its sleeve. There's an intentional homage to The Exorcist at the beginning (think movie poster), and the slow-burn "boo!" scares have all the marks of a big-budget studio horror. And it might be due to the lack of scare fests at the cinema this year (and 2020, obviously) talking, but this feels like superior fare and a welcome upturn in the franchise's fortunes. In other words, forgeddabout The Nun.
Whilst La Llorona didn't exactly set the box office booming, Chaves turns out to be a good choice of director for this outing. There are nicely shot scenes that are handsomely mounted and pretty thrilling. A vision of a murder constantly switches between day and night during a frantic chase. An attempted suicide alternates grippingly between a jail cell and a dark morgue (with an animated corpse to boot!). It's all solid stuff. Along with some trippy visuals, perhaps what impresses the most is the understated use of sound, or rather, the lack of it. Yes, there are some predictably built-up sequences that culminate (effectively) in appropriate jump-scares. But there are also some terrific moments where silence reigns, and we can just hear Lorraine's breathing or slight cracking noises. It's nicely pulled off and very atmospheric.
However, you can't talk about the Conjuring movies and not give some major credit to the charisma of Farmiga and Wilson. As there is particular attention to Lorraine's psychic abilities this time, we get lovely intense acting scenes that focus on Farmiga's photogenic expressions. Wilson gets to emote frustration and concern as a slightly crocked Ed. But the actors both still exude palpable chemistry that is essential to the character's relationship, along with "goodness" and affection. They take the film to a better place, and it would mark lower if not for their efforts.
It's not that the film does anything particularly new or astounding. But it does what it does well. Take the "true story" element with a bucket full of salt, and it's a solid and enjoyable entry. There are some very neat touches; you'll never lay on a water bed again or listen to Blondie's "Call Me" in the same way. There's also moments of sly humour that works well against the incredulous acceptance of demonism. Check out the betting pool in the police office and the lawyer's frazzled state after visiting the Warren's home. It's a welcome return to form for the spine of the franchise. Almost like "The Exorcist" meets "Perry Mason". Not so much a "whodunnit", more like a "who-raised-it". If the Warrens are to have further adventures, procedural would seem to be the way to go rather than another haunted house. It's nowhere near perfect, but it is accomplished and entertaining and delivers on slick scares. The franchise has legs yet…
Being the first "scary movie" to be experienced in a cinema in what feels like forever, it can be easy to overstate generic thrills. But this feels like the epitome of slick studio horror and is easily the best film in this "universe" since "Conjuring 2. For spook-starved fans, it "Warrens" a watch.
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