A detail that’s often overlooked about the main Conjuring movies is the fact that each one of them is supposed to be based on true events. The second entry, for instance, gave audiences two real-life hauntings that aren’t only well-documented but also inspired fictionalized accounts of their own due to their popularity: the Amityville Haunting in New York and the Enfield Haunting in England.
Amityville in particular skyrocketed Lorraine & Ed Warren into supernatural superstardom and the recordings captured in Enfield are still passed around as evidence of true demonic possession. The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It is based on what can be considered the Warrens’ most controversial case in their resumé as it spills into the realm of law for the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, a man that denied personal responsibility for the murder of his landlord due to demonic possession.
Unfortunately for the movie, Arne’s supernaturally-inclined defense strategy is barely touched on in favor of more traditional but admirably executed scares. Therein lies a missed opportunity, and a good one at that.
Directed by Michael Chaves, The Conjuring 3 starts out with a very clever and viscerally shot exorcism that gives more than a few nods to The Exorcist, from the priest’s arrival to the possessed party’s house to the camera angles favored during the exorcism rite. A little boy is being tormented by an inhuman spirit that transfers to the body of Arne during Ed and Lorraine’s attempt to rid it back to hell. Arne becomes the possessed subject and ends up killing a man seemingly without provocation (although the movie hints at a possible motive, if only ever so slightly).
Up until the murder and subsequent arrest, the movie reaches horror highs that keep the tension, the dread, and the pure ugliness of demonic possession in a state of intensity that could cause permanent nerve damage. It sets everything up for a dangerous battle for the soul of a man in the face of a murder conviction that’s eagerly flirting with the death penalty. In the movie, only the Warrens can prevent Arne’s harsh punishment at the hands of the state of Texas.
The movie opts, instead, to go down a more conventional route with the Warrens looking for a devil worshipper that might be pulling the strings behind the scenes. There’s a real threat of danger that puts Ed and Lorraine’s relationship to test to see if faith and devotion are truly the couple’s secret weapons.
The result is a story that feels more personal, being that this might be the last time we’ll see Lorraine and Ed on the big screen (for a while at least). It comes off as the closing of a trilogy, complete with callbacks to previous entries and little easter eggs for those who’ve kept up with the franchise as a whole.
One thing the movie will most definitely be commended for is its breakneck pace. Once the hunt for the new villain begins, it doesn’t stop. At times, it carries itself like a ghost procedural, with Ed and Lorraine as its lead detectives. It also harbors a darker tone too, giving off True Detective vibes right down to the color palettes and the overall grittiness of the whole affair. It’s a different direction than the previous two movies and it could suggest the franchise will move along these lines in the future.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens offer the same great performances we’ve already grown accustomed to, but Ruairi O’Connor as Arne is the breakout role here. His interpretation of the possessed man projects honesty and true fear. He plays up Arne’s innocence to great effect and makes you want to root for the character.
It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of him as his character is more a means to an end, a vehicle for the story with the Warrens holding the wheel. I believe the production might’ve been afraid the movie was could end up being a retread of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), in which the death of a “possessed” girl during an exorcism leads to a courtroom drama where doubt is cast on both the legal and the spiritual sides of the argument. Having said that, Arne’s situation is so unique that it warranted a bit more attention than the story gives him.
As a bonus, readers of the DC Horror Conjuring comic The Lover will find a few connections that link it to the movie. I recommend giving it a read before watching The Conjuring 3 for an extra dose of excitement.
The “based on true events” aspect of The Conjuring 3 manages to be at its most elusive this time around than ever before. It had the necessary components to be more present and give a different spin on the formula, but its absence only means audiences get a solid Conjuring experience that delivers on scares but could’ve actually been truly special.