REVIEW: The Devil went down to ‘Conjuring’ and it wasn’t a good time

The totally not con-artist Warrens are back in another movie about a demonic possession that really happened and wasn’t made up.

Yes, there was a lot of sarcasm in that lede.

The eighth film in the “Conjuring” cinematic universe takes place in 1981 with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) assisting in an exorcism of a young boy. In the process of the exorcism, the demon possessing the boy is transferred to a man assisting in the situation, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor).

During the altercation, Ed suffers a heart attack and is taken to a hospital. When he recovers, he warns of Arne’s possible possession, but it’s too late. Arne commits murder on his landlord and is arrested by the police. Facing a potential death penalty sentence, the Warrens begin an investigation into the possession to try to prove in court that it was a demon that caused the murder.

“The Conjuring” series has had its fair share of hits and misses, with the first one still being the best and “The Nun” standing as the low point. This film is more comparable to the latter.

One area where the movie hits a sour note is the subject matter itself. All of these “Conjuring” movies have made claims about being based on true stories. There are many resources making the point that the Warrens’ stories were fabricated and I’ve come to that conclusion too.

However, the cinematic universe Warrens have been largely likable thanks to the actors portraying them and it’s been easy to just take the films as simply more entries to the haunting horror genre. This time around, it’s harder to separate this as just entertainment, though.

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Courtesy Warner Bros.

A real person died at the hands of Arne Johnson. There was a real victim in this story, not just claims of people being frightened by doors closing by themselves.

Following the murder of this victim, this movie’s whole narrative revolves around the protagonists finding out that it was actually an evil supernatural entity that caused this murder, not a mental illness or some other tragic occurrence.

The lack of ambiguity over whether this was supernatural or not and the continuous push on the notion that this was a demonic action just came across as being in poor taste. The film milks the death of this victim only to make a rather generic piece of horror entertainment.

The film is so by-the-books, too, that even if another “case file” from the Warrens had been chosen, it wouldn’t have been a much better movie. One problem is the film is jam-packed with jump scares, as several scenes drop the volume to its lowest point only to raise it back up when something comes out of a shadow.

Usually, there’s no payoff, other than a rather unimpressive CGI monster.

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At this point, the investigations by the Warrens are starting to become a lackluster experience as well. The first two Conjurings, plus “Annabelle Comes Home,” which was basically another film with the married couple, had some good qualities, but the shine has worn off.

This movie felt like a simple, procedural, monster of the week episode to a series rather than a movie. That’s fine for a TV show, as the “X-Files” hit its stride with those, but for the big screen, more is expected.

The Warrens themselves are becoming forgettable, too. At first they had a certain charm, being this loving couple who were dedicated to fighting the forces of darkness. By this film, though, their shtick has kind of run its course.

Their relationship feels one dimensional and other than Ed having a health issue in this movie, not much conflict happens. It’s as if there’s no arc for these characters anymore. Again, it’s an episodic sign where the characters investigate another case and then move on.

This series is really fortunate to have talented performers like Farmiga and Wilson to really anchor things. While the movie is certainly flawed, the two of them do put this movie on their backs and lift it up somewhat.

Plus, there are some effective frightening scenes giving audiences a bit of horror entertainment. A plethora of issues pulls this film’s rating down to a 2 out of 5, though.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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