The Conjuring 3 continues the theatrical case file adaptations of famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The third film in the franchise and overall eighth chapter in The Conjuring Universe is based on a 1981 murder trial where demonic possession was used as an alibi by the defense. Satanic rituals, grotesque deformations, and a better than expected villain provide serviceable scares for the dedicated fan base. The film runs long during the second act, but gets back to bread and butter horror tropes for a pulse-pounding finale.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It hits the ground running with the 1980 exorcism of young David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) in Brookfield, Connecticut. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) lead the ritual as the boy's family watches in terror. David's sister, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), and her boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O'Connor ), hold him down as he hideously contorts. The demon does not give up easily; attacking Ed and flooding Lorraine's mind with bizarre visions. When David returns to normal, everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
Months later, Debbie and Arne have moved in together at a boarding kennel for dogs. Ed recovers from the ordeal with a stalwart Lorraine at his side. But he remembers a critical missed moment in David's exorcism. A blood-covered Arne is found by the police walking blankly on the highway. He's committed a savage murder, but has no memory of the event. Ed and Lorraine believe that Arne was possessed by the same demon that took control of David. They don't understand why Arne showed no signs of possession when interrogated by law enforcement. Arne is put on trial for murder with the death penalty looming. As the Warrens' dig deeper into David's exorcism, they come to a frightening conclusion. An unknown enemy has unleashed a curse with a satanic goal.
The devil is in the details and the film has a surprisingly fastidious approach. The mystery at its core has the Warrens' hitting the road to investigate a similar event. Vera Farmiga takes center stage with her psychic abilities. These scenes would look like ridiculous hokum with a lesser actress. Farmiga sells her fear and resolve much more than previous installments. I believe the filmmakers wanted tangible depth for their primary characters. The Warrens' have to be taken seriously or the entire premise falls apart. The franchise evolves by giving them stronger exposition.
The scare factor is not groundbreaking. Every dark corner, lull in music, and front-facing head shot is a clear signal to be wary. That said, director Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), gets better with his second turn in The Conjuring Universe. His camera placement and editing choices have been refined. The exorcism, Arne in prison, and the Warrens' in the woods standout as more cinematic than the previous films. It's a noticeable and appreciated improvement in quality.
Most horror fans will like The Conjuring 3, but I can see where some may find fault. They might take exception to the investigative aspects and focus on the Warrens' relationship. There is a romance element here that reinforces their bond as a couple. My view is that it makes the protagonists realistic and personable. I'd rather root for characters than see a wall-to-wall bloodbath of mindless death. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is produced by New Line Cinema and James Wan's Atomic Monster Productions. Warner Bros. will have a concurrent theatrical and HBO Max streaming release on June 4th.