In 1981, a demon-possessed 11-year-old David Glatzel. His family enlisted Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators, to help exorcise the spirit from David. After the exorcism, the demon left David’s body and entered Arne Johnson, who was dating David’s sister. Eyewitness testimony purports that Johnson would fall into a trance-like state and exhibit odd behavior following the demonic possession of his body. Johnson would later be convicted of murdering his landlord. His defense was that he was under demonic influence, but without proof, he was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison.
It sounds like a killer story for a horror film, right?
The third installment of The Conjuring Franchise, and the eighth film in The Conjuring Universe, nods its head to this intriguing case and then runs away from it. Not only is it a missed opportunity, but the misleading marketing for the film enticed audiences with the ‘based on a true story’ line. The first act sets up the case with a brutal exorcism of young David Glatzel, but the screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who also wrote The Conjuring 2, decides to turn the film into an investigative procedural. As a result, the scares become ineffective, and the story on which the film is based all but disappears.
Director Michael Chaves, who made his feature directorial debut with the lackluster The Curse of La Llorona, once again relies on scaring audiences with characters doing things you know they shouldn’t. When Lorraine Warren, played by the wonderful and underutilized Vera Farmiga, crawls under the Glatzel’s house to find the source of the demon, you already know to allow her five minutes of crawl time before something frightening will actually happen.
Look, I’m not the ideal audience for this film. I scare too easily and perhaps one day, I’ll make it through American Horror Story: Asylum without my hands over my eyes. But the most terrifying aspect of The Conjuring 3 is its departure from the perplexing case of ‘The Devil Made Me Do It. The film might’ve told the story of David’s demonic possession and Arne’s subsequent habitation of the demon within the confines of their spooky home. The Conjuring 3 has indeed illuminated the box office after the pandemic halted the release of most studio films, but even the climax in an underground tunnel felt oddly banal.
After all this time, we, as an audience, deserve some ingenuity with the storytelling.