The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (MA, 112 minutes)
Just a few weeks ago I reviewed the latest in the very long line of Saw films, Spiral, and what I note was that nine films in, this franchise was making something of a pivot to avoid staleness and repetition.
For Spiral, this meant bringing in Chris Rock as lead performer and producer, and establishing a new narrative approach as a detective thriller rather than as just straight-up torture porn.
Something similar is happening with this latest in the Conjuring Universe. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is either the third or the seventh film in the series. It is the third film after 2013's The Conjuring and 2016's The Conjuring 2, but the series has also spun off two sub-franchise series based on baddies "Annabelle" and "The Nun".
What is slightly different this time around is that the focus has moved away from the intention to scare the pants off the audience and more towards a traditional procedural.
The series is based on the stories and publications of the real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who investigated and wrote about the Amityville haunting that inspired an earlier lucrative film franchise.
They're played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, an extremely photogenic pair. The late Ed Warren ought to be extremely flattered by the casting. With her swooping up-do and Victorian-neckline gowns, Farmiga is a pretty decent doppelganger for the psychic Lorraine.
The case this film is based on made headlines back in the day as Johnson's plea of not guilty by reason of demonic possession was a first for the American court system
This film is based on a real-life investigation the couple ran in 1981 supporting the trial of Arne Johnson.
The film opens with Ed and Lorraine Warren dramatically assisting a priest in the exorcism of a demon from the body of young David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). Moved by the sight of the young boy in pain, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O'Connor) looks into the boy's eyes and dares the evil spirit to take him instead.
Arne is there as boyfriend of David's older sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) and the noble gesture has deadly consequences.
While David's life returns to normal, Arne starts to see a sinister figure lurking in the shadows.
Later, at the home they share with Debbie's boss Bruno (Ronnie Gene Bevins), Arne hallucinates Bruno as the sinister figure and he stabs him to death.
The Gatzel family gets in touch with the Warrens who look for evidence that Arne's violence is related to David's earlier possession which leads them to consult the priest Kastner (John Noble) who had previously investigated a satanic cult in the region.
The case this film is based on made headlines back in the day as Johnson's plea of not guilty by reason of demonic possession was a first for the American court system.
The screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick has a narrow focus - very much on the possession, or possibly just old-fashioned murder, and the efforts of the Warrens to solve the case.
This focus comes at the expense of character development. A handful of characters appear probably because they're based on real-life characters, particularly the Warrens' daughter Judy (Sterling Jerins) and their assistant Drew (Shannon Kook) ,but they contribute naught to the dialogue or the plot.
But the procedural focus draws viewers in and carries them along with some momentum between the jump scares and the quasi-religious horror.
Wilson and Farmiga are terrific. A different kind of superhero, each with their own set of flaws but for who their marriage and their faith are the super powers. Farmiga deserves an Oscar for throwing herself around the physical scenes in floor-length gowns and thick skirts and living to tell the tale.
As the haunted Arne, O'Connor gives a strong performance and for me channels the periorbital hyperpigmentation that Queer Eye star Antoni Porowski made sexy, or possibly he had the same make-up team that gave Angelina Jolie her smoky eye realness in Those Who Wish Me Dead.
This film is more NCIS than torture porn, but still has enough scares to make it too frightening to take your old mum along to watch.
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