The third installment of The Conjuring franchise sets the focus on the young man Arne Cheyenne Johnson – a case that is most noteworthy for being the first murder case in US history where the defendant tried to plea not guilty due to being under control of demonic forces. And as soon as the Warrens meets with Arne’s lawyer who believes he has no chance to get a plea deal, Ed delivers his rather thought-provoking phrase “The court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth. I think it’s about time they accept the existence of the Devil.” This is a real quote from Ed, and possibly the most rational thing he ever said.
Arne received a reduced sentence of five years, and both he and his wife have later appeared in an episode of the TV series A Haunting on Discovery Channel, called Where Demons Dwell. The episode only deals with the possession of David, and not a single word about what happened to Arne later, oddly enough, which is the most interesting aspect of this whole messy case. In 1983, two years after the trial, a movie made for TV titled The Demon Murder Case starring Kevin Bacon in one of the roles was aired. The film seems to be completely forgotten and seen by very few. So we just have to jump thirty years later and take a look at the latest film loosely based on the case, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
We are at the home of the Glatzel family where the Warren couple, Ed and Lorraine, are in the middle of a chaotic exorcism seance of the young boy David. His sister Debbie and her boyfriend Arne Johnson are among the helpless witnesses, while all hell breaks loose which never seem to end. Arne finally gets enough, and pulls off a Damien Karras to urge the demon to rather take him – which makes Ed’s panic button go off just before he faints from a heart attack and gets rushed to the hospital in a coma. While everything seems to be back to normal, Arne and Debbie decide to take the relationship one step further by getting engaged and move to the country. Arne has clearly not been completely himself after he invited the demon into his meatsuit, and things take a really brutal U-turn when he one day gets piss drunk, starts to hallucinate and ends up stabbing his landlord, Bruno, to death 22 times. As soon as Ed wakes up from the coma, a battle is set to convince the justice system that Arne killed under the influence of demon possession, and they’ll try to save him from the death penalty. What happened in real life will always be up for debate, but it gets more tempting to assume that it was more the alcohol that made him do it than anything else, and only used his invitation of the demon as a desperate excuse. But this alone is of course not enough material to fill a supernatural horror film, so just like the two previous films, it diverges completely from facts to fabricated fairytales with its own imaginative mythologies, which includes satanism and an ongoing curse to find the source of.
James Wan, who directed the two first films, is only responsible for the story and worked as producer, while the newcomer Michael Chaves has taken over the torch as director with only The Curse of La Llorona and some short films under his belt. David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick got the challenging task to write the script, which was enough for me to not lower the expectation to zero, after watching Orphan, another great horror flick he also wrote. And the story is really good here, and more complex than the previous two, which mixes supernatural horror with elements of True Crime which opens everything up to a more adventurous field trip rather than just being stuck in a haunted house scenario, which honestly only James Wan is able to really master. The film is rich in locations such as scary basements, gothic underground tunnels, and a morgue where the Warren couple gets attacked by a giant monstrous man who could be something straight out of a Resident Evil game. There’s also a nod to The Exorcist as seen in the trailer, which was nicely done, and the scene with the waterbed made me think of a certain Elm Street film. Even though the film is not as edge-of-your-seat scary, it has a ton of atmosphere with some really great visuals, creative set-designs and a steady pacing that keeps the entertaining value on track, and overall a compelling story and mystery to get invested in. So yeah, Michael Chaves has proven himself to be a competent director to trust in, I would say. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are as usual great and convincing in their roles with as good chemistry as in the first two, and the acting in general is strong and solid all over the board. It was also fun to see John Noble in one of the roles, whom I haven’t seen since the Fringe days.
Director: Michael Chaves
Country & year: USA, 2021
Actors: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Shannon Kook, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Keith Arthur Bolden, Steve Coulter, Vince Pisani, Ingrid Bisu, Andrea Andrade, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Sterling Jerins, Paul Wilson