GORE IN THE STORE
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT ***
Directed by Michael Chaves.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruari O’Connor.
Horror, US, 121 minutes, cert 15.
Released in the UK 26th May in cinemas and on digital by Warner Bros.
The continuing adventures of Lorraine and Ed Warren now take us into the 1980’s in the third instalment of the mega franchise. This time around we are witness to the highly fictionalised take on the infamous case of Arne Johnson, an incident involving demonic possession that the more sceptical among you may class as highly fictionalised already. For those not in the know to such events the unfortunate Arne became host to a demon during the exorcism of his girlfriend’s younger brother. Witness to these events were the Warren’s who jumped to Arne’s defence when he murdered his landlord, blaming it on the demonic entity that had taken up residence within the otherwise well-behaved young man.
Whether you harbour such beliefs or not there is no denying that “the Devil Made Me Do It case”, as it came to be known in the media soon thereafter, is a fascinating event in regards to how it was handled by the law and in the court. These aspects however are largely ignored in favour of using the possession as a mystery for the Warren’s to investigate, putting themselves in the sights of a demonic entity whose influence stretches back years and may be connected to dark events that have been kept secret from the small town where this all takes place.
Casting aside the usual dark haunted house setting that dominates most of the Conjuring-verse movies in favour of a procedural style story helps to slightly refresh the franchise. Set at the dawn of the nineteen eighties it manages to avoid wallowing in the period’s usual visual cues, although there are tantalising hints of the Satanic Panic scare that would grip the nation as the decade crept on, lurking in the shadow of such high-profile figures as Ronald Reagan and his fellow Republicans who espoused their Christian values in the name of bettering American society. Despite the films two hour running time director Michael Chaves concentrates instead on the overcooked styling of sinister figures jumping out of nowhere to give the protagonists and audience a jump scare.
Even though Chaves has already dabbled in this area before with the loosely related CURSE OF LA LLORONA he fails to execute the scares and jumps that previous series helmer James Wan displayed to great effect in the previous two entries. Despite all its talk of black magic and contortion addled exorcism scenes this could perhaps be the tamest entry yet in the franchise and its spin offs, including the teen friendly ANNABELLE COMES HOME. Fans will find much here to keep them otherwise satisfied, whether it is the supernatural set pieces; not one but two exorcisms here for our benefit, or the central performances of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the increasingly beleaguered investigating duo.
This double act is undoubtedly one of the series greatest strengths. Not often in horror cinema are audiences witness to a decent, loving married couple with no drama between them. There is a warmth in these performances that seems to spill off the screen, that could be down to familiarity after nearly a decade of these films, that the majority of protagonists in horror cinema fail or don’t even attempt to capture. While sentimental and hokey, evidenced especially in the sepia toned flashbacks to their first meeting, there is also a nicely humorous self-awareness in the characters that has the audience rooting for them, Lorraine’s anecdote about Elvis being the best example here, going down as the best one liner in the entire series yet.
As entertaining as ever it is a passable entry in a franchise that really needs to recalibrate itself in the way of scaring its audience. The end credits contain snippets of the actual audio recording of the first exorcism that manage to chill and disturb more than any of the jump scares that have preceded it. Perhaps a focus on the more realistic and disturbing elements of such real-life cases could be the way to forge ahead a new path in screen terror than the over familiar use of spooky figures jumping out of the shadows. However you feel about such matters it is well worth making the effort to catch this on a cinema screen where such shocks and jumps will no doubt go down a treat, especially after we have been denied such a pleasure for so long.