Casting really good actors as the leads has paid endless dividends in “The Conjuring” films, and with every subtle, emotional gesture or realistic depiction of terror or shock, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson make that as true in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” the third film featuring these two as Lorraine and Ed Warren.
But the movie? It’s the worst of the trilogy, beginning and ending as an over-the-top blunt instrument, pounding home the opening act exorcism and middling finale with breathless editing and a soundtrack amplified into a sledgehammer.
The sagging middle acts are where the Warrens set out to “prove” a young man accused of murder (Ruairi O’Connor of “Teen Spirit” and TV’s “The Spanish Princess”) was “possessed” at the time he committed the crime. They were at the exorcism in which they witnessed a child (Julian Hilliard) turned into a pretzel with the voice that came out of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” They heard the deal young Arne (O’Connor) made with the demon to “take me” instead and spare his girlfriend’s (Sarah Catherine Hook) little brother.
So naturally, the Warrens are interested in his case, accused of stabbing a man “22 times” after being subjected to Blondie’s “Call Me” at 140 decibels by his girlfriend’s beer-drunk boss.
The Warrens convince a skeptical lawyer of the “demonic possession” defense after inviting her over and introducing her “to Annabelle,” the funniest line in the movie, a moment embracing “The Conjuring” universe but doing it off-camera.
There are bravura bits, great effects in which Lorraine dives into “seer” mode, re-witnessing crimes as the Warrens try to tie Arne’s case to “Satanist” activity in an era when that hit the headlines every few days in assorted corners of rural America. Clever effects sell those moments as much as Farmiga’s performance, as committed as she’s been in all of these movies.
Adding the always-creepy John Noble (“Lord of the Rings,” etc) as the old priest who “knows things” is a nice touch. But the payoff is as conventional as it is uninspiring. The best of these movies have moved me to tears in their coda. This one was a big fat “meh.”
Those otherwise lumbering middle acts are where “Devil Made Me Do It” lost me, and having Farmiga assert “Ed and I have proven demonic possession dozens of times” is a a shovel-full I could have done without.
These movies, with their clips of the “real” Warrens interviewed by the chat hosts of the era (Phil Donahue and Tom Snyder were always booking them) and “real” case coverage in newsprint, are pointlessly passing off their balderdash as “a true story,” as some great font of occult insights and knowledge succeeding generations have merely forgotten.
Nostradamus built an entire posthumous career over “what he knew” that we have “forgotten.”
Stay through the credits. This version of the Warrens is rightly described as “characters created by” screenwriters. The real couple shared chat show time with “Aliens Built the Pyramids” crank Erik von Daniken, soothsayer Jean Dixon and spoon-bending hustler “mentalist” Uri Geller.
Suggesting they “proved” anything is rewriting their history and turning passable entertainments into “fake news.” Why not have Wilson tag the movies with “We depict, YOU decide,” an inside joke that properly IDs much of what we’ve just been shown as BS?
Of course, if Michael Chaves (he directed “The Curse of La Llorona,” weakest screen version of “La Llorona”) was closer to horror’s A-list and “The Devil Made Me Do It” had delivered, none of that would have mattered. Much.
MPA Rating: R for terror, violence and some disturbing images.
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, John Noble, and Sarah Catherine Hook.
Credits: Directed by Michael Chaves, script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Warner Brothers/New Line release.
Running time: 1:52