A strong addition to the Conjuring series that doesn’t surpass its predecessors but does offer a lot to enjoy.
The film opens with a brutal and intense exorcism of a young boy named David. It took me a second to realize that David was indeed played by the cute kid from Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House Julian Hilliard. The poor kid just can’t catch a break with all these demons. There’s a shot ripped straight out of The Exorcist. I’m not sure if it qualifies as an homage or if it’s just a ripoff here.
Anyway, the family is being aided in their demonic troubles by Ed and Lorraine Warren, played once again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. During the exorcism Arne Johnson, played by Ruairi O’Connor, tells the demon to take him instead, so it does. It leaves the little boy and takes Arne. At first everything seems okay. Life goes on.
However, when Arne’s landlord antagonizes Arne, he begins seeing nightmare visions and defends himself with his knife, murdering his landlord and landing him in jail. The Warrens step up to help Arne with his legal defense. His defense? Not guilty by reason of demon possession.
Right away the movie gooses the Conjuring formula of a family in an evil house by turning our ghost fighters into ghost detectives almost as they try to uncover the source of the demon and who sent it against the innocent David and Arne.
This shift works really well in some spots and less so in others. We lose the immediacy of the stuck in the house setup. We also lose the horror of the home. For most people home is a safe space. It’s where you feel the most protected. In a ghost story your safe space is infested with danger and fear. When you’re scared as a kid you run into bed and hide under the covers. In the Conjuring world, the demon will pull you right out from under those covers. This movie loses that but gains a wider variety of locations to haunt.
The biggest shift from the first two films though is the director. James Wan directed the first two with clear cinematography and a slow build up and payoff. The director here is Michael Chaves. His visual approach could not be more different. He suffocated his characters with shadow. I’d say 75% of every frame is darkness. It isolates the characters and creates an oppressively ominous atmosphere.
Chaves also launches into wild expressionism in moments of possession. We get thrust into the POV of characters undergoing possession and seeing the horrifying imagery that accompanies that evil. These leaps into expressionism are intense and serve to untether the viewer and keep them off balance, constantly wondering what’s real.
I have some problems with the movie. One is the evil that they’re fighting is sort of nebulas and unmotivated. When discussing why someone would want to hurt little David the only answer offered is essentially evil people are evil. That’s just not compelling to me. I’d like a little more in my demonic villains. Do they want a soul? Do they thirst for blood? Were they wronged in the past? I’d just like a little something to give the villain shape.
There’s a cliff side sequence that looks so incredibly fake it pulled me right out of the movie. The cgi work is abysmal here. It looks like Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga standing in front of a watercolor backdrop. It’s incredibly unconvincing. It’s hard to be afraid when you don’t believe what you’re seeing.
Overall, this is a really good scary movie. It’s not great like its predecessors, but it is a good time. If you like these characters and their series this will be a fun time.
It’s my cup of tea B+