The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook
screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
directed by Michael Chaves
by Walter Chaw I like the Conjuring movies--or, rather, I've come to appreciate them independent of their actual quality. I like them not because of their supernatural stuff or sometimes-expert jump scares, but because they're a popular mainstream film series--one that has suspiciously little to do with any conjuring--about a corny, middle-aged, 1960s married couple who are hot for each other. They own a small business together and respect the unique skill sets the other one brings to the table. Their marriage is as solid as American steel. Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) thinks Ed (Patrick Wilson) is the manliest man that ever manned; Ed thinks Lorraine is the most spiritual spiritualist to ever spiritual. In each other's eyes, they are the utmost. I bet the sex is incredible. Ed and Lorraine are based on real-life couple the Warrens, who earned a living as the kind of sideshow hucksters James Randi made it his holy mission to expose. Yet as immortalized in this flourishing billion-dollar franchise, they are golden and perfect. They are Ozzie & Harriet: Demonologist Exorcists, and these movies are vehicles for their vintage, good ol' middle-American can-do spirit. They're what Republicans used to be before devolving into domestic terrorists and Christo-fascist cultists, and so they carry with them a trace of nostalgia for a time before this country seemed irrevocably divided. In this cinematic universe, the threat isn't only from within.
I will confess, I haven't the first clue what the fuck is happening in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (hereafter Conjuring 3). I do know that it's based on a true story, as all of the Conjurings are; given that these "true" stories are drawn from emphatically debunked accounts the Warrens embellished to aggrandize their reputations and line their pockets, it must be said that here that designation is even more meaningless than usual. This installment has something to do with a guy trying to use an "I was possessed" defense for murdering his buddy--a plea that failed utterly in real life and more or less does in the film, too. (Spoiler alert, I guess.) Conjuring 3, of course, portrays it all as happening exactly as he (via the Warrens) said, which, if the intent is to portray the confusion of a disturbed mind, well, mission accomplished. It begins promisingly enough with the exorcism of a pint-sized contortionist, David (Julian Hilliard), the little brother of Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), who's engaged to our hero, Arne (Ruairi O'Connor). Performing the exorcism for some reason are non-priests the Warrens, whose faith in each other transmogrifies into an "I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express" sort of confidence that, well... Let's just say it doesn't go off without a hitch, as the Warrens are tossed around, Ed tears off a heart attack, and Arne intervenes by doing the very Father Karras thing of inviting the demon possessing David to take him instead. A brave gesture we know went awry (because the film is alas longer than ten minutes) when the demon resurfaces a few...days? Weeks? Months? Or is it hours later, manifesting as a hallucination of Debbie getting pawed by buddy Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins), leading Arne to do the thing one does in situations such as these and stab the shit out of her attacker.
This does open up the opportunity for one of a pair of tributes to the amazing Texas Switch in Mario Bava's Shock--the one where a thing that is bigger than it looks can loom up over someone in whom we have invested some emotion. It's cool the first time it happens and less cool the next time--the law of diminishing returns something this series should consider as a whole. Now, it turns out this demon is not possessing Arne full-time for reasons to do with a bone totem Lorraine discovers in the crawlspace underneath David's waterbed. We know this because, in a largely unmotivated and extended flashback that stops the movie dead, we see David trying out his new waterbed. Actually, I do know why there's a flashback: because the screenwriter handbook says something has to happen every 15 minutes, and this flashback happens at the 30-minute mark. The problem with this "scary" scene is that it shows David recognizing his waterbed is haunted, but because of the opening sequence, we know he got possessed anyway. This means David slept on the fucking bed despite dire warnings, meaning he deserves to get possessed, the little fool. Lorraine takes pictures of the totem, and later another bone totem surfaces in Ed's office. Ed, who has had a heart attack and been in a coma for a while suddenly finds himself in the forest chasing after Lorraine, who has been possessed or at least overtaken by a vision of something terrible and almost runs off a cliff--but Ed grabs her in time. Phew!
There's a police procedural element where Lorraine does a Dalai Lama trick of picking out the right artifact to prove to credulous Sgt. Clay (Keith Arthur Bolden) that she's for real (Ed never doubted for a moment); a visit to creepy exposition dispenser Father Kastner (John Noble), who shows the Warrens his collection of evil books in his farmhouse basement; and a separate timeline depicting an early adventure (it's love) between Young Ed (Mitchell Hoog) and Young Lorraine (Megan Ashley Brown). I laughed with sweet delight when Lorraine, with a look of complete disgust, tells Father Kastner, referring to his collection, "You should burn all this." Farmiga's line delivery is perfect mom-in-her-dotage "lemme talk to your manager." Ed says in a no-nonsense daddy way, "I don't suppose you have all these books organized by the Dewey Decimal System, do ya?" Kastner launches into a story that includes a baby with its heart born on the outside--which, of course, is the same thing Glen says in Raising Arizona when relating the dire selection of adoptable babies in Maricopa County. Yes, Conjuring 3 is incredibly bad, completely incoherent, and also a hoot. I mean, settling in to watch it for this review, it took me an hour to realize I'd already seen it. But, look, there's a scene in a police station where something significant happens while an entire room full of cops responds to something they can't possibly see. Then the movie cuts to Elvis singing "Suspicious Minds" as Lorraine says she met Elvis once and Ed, in the back seat, smiles in an entirely unreadable way, leading me to think "orgy, probably" or "cuckold fantasy," but maybe I've just seen too many Patrick Wilson movies.
I don't hate Conjuring 3. It's expensive, mainstream, big-budget, by-the-numbers tentpole franchise garbage horror written and directed--that is, sired and spawned--by the unholy union of a calculator and a cash register. The last five minutes confirm that Arne is convicted of manslaughter as he must be and spends a few years in prison, during which he gets married--and here's the kicker: the chyron assures us that he and Debbie are married to this day. That's right, the real happy ending of this film is neither the vanquishing of demons nor justice for the guy Arne perforated because demons got into him, but the triumph of domestic monogamy between a murderer and his prison bride. America! Did I mention Conjuring 3 is kind of a riff on The Notebook, too? Oh, and authentic archival audio of the exorcism of young David plays over the end of the film, sounding a lot like the improvised dialogue from one of those Interdimensional Television episodes of "Rick & Morty". I don't know how to make sense of that, though it's made me like that show even more than I already did.
THE 4K UHD DISC
The first of the Conjuring movies to get a physical 4K release, find the 2.39:1, 2160p video transfer of this expensive, mainstream, big-budget, by-the-numbers tentpole franchise garbage horror movie to be predictably eye-shattering. Presented with HDR10, the image is purposefully dim, although enthusiastic highlights lend a ton of visual interest, like the twinkling, almost celestial lights above young Lorraine and Ed as they act moony in a gazebo. Shadows are credibly black while the wider colour gamut shifts the colour grade away from the slight teal lean of the accompanying Blu-ray towards a more brownish-purple reminiscent of Ektachrome--a palette that better suits the period vibe. Red light sources, for what it's worth, burn with a hellish intensity they lack in SDR. Fine detail is super-fine, with settings like Kastner's basement library so sharp I felt I could read the titles of every grimoire if only the camera would move a bit closer. It might be too tactile in places, veering dangerously close to motion-smoothing territory: The digital source, upconverted from a 2K DI for this presentation, is so frictionless it loses any chance of filmic texture. The attendant Dolby Atmos audio bears down on you in its 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mixdown, yet I can't help thinking that for a horror movie this reliant on deep atmosphere and jump-scares, it all comes off a little thin. The opening exorcism is the key exception, filling the room with wind, a weird sizzling noise that creeped me out almost more than the events on screen, and enough explosive volume to become immersive. While it's technically irreproachable, this track, the bar has been set high enough at this point that I'm disappointed, almost bored, by the mix proper. It lacks imagination, sharing that deficiency with the film itself.
The Blu-ray in this triple-packed treasure (there's also a voucher for a digital copy of Conjuring 3) comes complete with a bounty of HiDef special features, starting with a mini-doc, "The Occultist" (4 mins.), centred on the character of The Occultist, whom I didn't mention above since I didn't really understand what the fuck she was aside from a witch of some sort. Like the first film, this movie has one, I assume, because conjuring. Anyhoo, essaying The Occultist is Eugenie Bondurant, who is on hand with assorted talking heads (director Michael Chaves, producer James Wan, stars Wilson and Farmiga) to insist The Occultist is a worthy adversary for the Warrens and it's all "very deep." "By Reason of Demonic Possession" (5 mins.) has Wan and Wilson/Farmiga on the same junket essentially recounting the plot of the film, now with the real-life Debbie and Arne Johnson alongside them to repeat what happened to them as we watch clips from the film reenacting what they remember. This plays like that "Chappelle's Show" sketch where Rick James appears and confirms all the ridiculous shit Charlie Murphy's been going on about. It doesn't mean the film is accurate to their memories, only that it's adequately inspired by them. I did enjoy the part where Arne talks about being railroaded and accused of something he didn't do, except he did do it. "Good vs. Evil," Debbie warns. "It's real!"
"Exorcism of Fear" (6 mins.) is focused mainly on how the opening sequence of the film is harrowing and scary because it's REAL. And you know what? "Real" is doing a lot of heavy lifting there. Where this loses me, though, is when stunt coordinator Glenn Foster ruminates that he needed to "update" The Exorcist so a "modern audience" would approve. I mean, sorry, but fuck off. It's here I learned they hired a contortionist, Emerald Wolf, to play David during the exorcism. Chaves crows about the in-camera effects and that's a fun thing to hear when Emerald is being interviewed with motion-capture dots on her face. Finally, "DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover #1" (13 mins.) is audio over a series of comic-book pages/paintings that provide backstory, I bet, to this very film. It's a neat way to read a graphic tie-in novel, reminding me of a recent trip to Denny's with my wife where we overheard a table full of high-school kids arguing about whether or not a graphic novel is different from a comic book. The young woman said you could tell one from the other by the style of the writing, and I was fascinated but not enough to ask for clarification. Not unlike my experience with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, come to think of it.
112 minutes; R; UHD: 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), HDR10, BD: 2.39:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); UHD: English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD core), English DVS 5.1, English DD 5.1, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Italian 5.1 DTS-HD MA, German 5.1 DTS-HD MA, German DVS 2.0, BD: English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD core), English DVS 5.1, English DVS (UK) 5.1, English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1, Castilian Spanish DD 5.1, Latin Spanish DD 5.1, Italian DD 5.1, Hindi DD 2.0 (Stereo), Hungarian DD 5.1, Tamil DD 2.0 (Stereo), Telugu DD 2.0 (Stereo); UHD: English SDH, French, Spanish, Italian SDH, German SDH, Norwegian, Cantonese, Mandarin (Traditional), Korean subtitles, BD: English SDH, French, French SDH, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish SDH, Italian, Italian SDH, Cantonese, Mandarin (Traditional), Korean, Greek/Moder, Hungarian, Romanian, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu subtitles; BD-66 + BD-50; Region-free; Warner