“The Conjuring” franchise established itself as one of the premier horror series in cinema in the 2010s with two main-line films, a spin-off “Anabelle” series and several other features officially making it a cinematic universe. Even with all the spinoffs the two main movies are still the best in my opinion so naturally when a “Conjuring 3” was announced I was pretty excited. Officially titled “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” and still based on the cases of the famed, and often divisive, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (once again played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) this third film takes us away from the haunted house setting of previous movies and into the infamous trial of Arne Cheyenne who was convicted of manslaughter in 1981 after committing a murder under alleged demonic possession. This gives the third film a personality all its own without the confines of a single home and expanding on this horror universe’s world. However, it also feels a little too different and forsakes the potential of its inspiration, resulting in what I consider the weakest of the three main “Conjuring” movies.
“The Conjuring 3”, which is how I’ll refer to it in this review to save space, was a promising idea. The trial of Arne Cheyenne had the potential to cover interesting new ground for the series especially when you consider a single line uttered by Ed Warren in the movie about how the court acknowledges God so why can’t they acknowledge the Devil? A horror-themed courtroom drama with flashbacks and a paranormal investigation element helping prove Cheyenne’s innocence not through insanity but through possession had the potential to provide us with daring and provocative ideas challenging the hypocrisy of the legal system and religious believers. It could have also challenged if people are inherently evil or if there are outside factors that push them in that direction as well as maybe exploring the often discussed duality of mental illness versus possession. Instead, the movie barely explores the actual court case of Cheyenne using it more as a springboard for a new completely fictional investigation by the Warrens involving a much more human antagonist than in past films. While this series has never been known for its pinpoint accuracy in depicting the Warren’s cases, this film’s unwillingness to commit fully to exploring the Cheyenne case means that, in my opinion, it wastes a much better idea at the core of the very story it claims to be about.
While like countless other horror movies and franchises the “Conjuring Universe” has always played fast and loose with the “based on real events” concept, when it comes to the main series the first two “Conjuring” films always felt like they were embellishing for the sake of expanding on the story at hand whereas this movie seems less focused on expanding on the Cheyenne case and more focused on using the Cheyenne case to expand the larger “Conjuring” world itself. There is a difference as the inspiration in this case takes a back seat to the more original narrative while the previous movies felt like the original elements were made to enhance the real-life events. Even then though, I feel like this movie wastes promising ideas that could have better built on the more fictional or larger scale elements of the franchise. It’s perfectly fine if they wanted to do something more original, but if you’re going to go that direction why waste it on a real-life court case that itself could have made for a great film AND could have helped build on the Warrens story? After being doubted their whole lives and dealing with families who nobody believed, a court case is the perfect chance to have the Warrens prove they were right all along. Why not explore the court process and have the Warren’s on a much more present ticking clock to prove in the court that demonic possession actually happened as well as proving themselves as legitimate, possibly playing off of the real-life doubters that made the real Warrens so infamous? So many cool, interesting ideas forsaken in favor of another movie about demons and witchcraft.
With that said, if you remove the “based on real events” mentality from this film it’s actually quite entertaining, although nowhere near as engaging as the first two movies. With a new director at the helm in Michael Chaves, who also directed possibly the weakest movie in all of the “Conjuring Universe” so far “The Curse of La Llorona”, “The Conjuring 3” still feels like a “Conjuring” movie with the effective scares and stylistic choices we’ve come to associate with the series and a great sense of dread to make it an above average horror feature when compared to other mainstream efforts. The removal of the haunted house setting didn’t really work for me but it also didn’t bother me. It does expand Ed and Lorraine’s investigations beyond the limits of four walls and the always terrific performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are more than enough to keep fans of the franchise invested even if they’re not always as entertained as before. The addition of a new, more human antagonist is also a nice touch providing a more grounded foe than just an unseen monster. It’s also worth noting that this movie contains one of the most enjoyably frightening scenes in the entire franchise with its opening ten or fifteen minutes, but sadly the rest of the film fails to live up to the bold promises that scene and the Arne Cheyenne story promise. I truly wish the movie either doubled down on the court case or did something completely unique without the real-life inspiration behind it. Instead, we have a final product that wants to do its own thing yet feels tied down by a need to connect to a real story resulting in the series as a whole getting even farther and farther away from its roots without fully owning its clear longing to do something different.
Out of all the “Conjuring Universe” movies to date this is the most different movie for me to judge so far. I didn’t hate it, I actually had fun with it, but I also didn’t find it very memorable. All the other films I either definitively liked or disliked but “The Conjuring 3” left me scratching my head as to how I really felt about it. There are some fun things including some of the new directions it takes its leads, expanding its dangers beyond just a haunted house, and the performances of the leads are strong as always. It’s dark and scary especially the opening, but it’s also much slower and feels less personal although it does maintain the Warren’s genuine concern for the person they’re trying to help. I would have much rather seen a film that provided a more in-depth analysis of the Arne Cheyenne court case, but this isn’t the first time the franchise as a whole has taken an overabundance of creative liberties. It just feels more obvious here than in any other movie that the larger “Conjuring” story is getting more and more out of touch with the actual Warren cases. The potential for following through with its real-life inspiration was so promising that the final result feels like a wasted opportunity to me, but I still can’t call this a bad movie. It’s effectively fun and far from anywhere close to the worst film in the larger cinematic universe. It is however the most underwhelming in the “Conjuring” series proper. In the end this is a movie I would certainly recommend. It’s a very good horror film and a worthy entry in the series. But it’s just not what I expected nor really what I wanted leaving me a little bit frustrated that what we got is not what we, or Arne Cheyenne and his story, really deserved.