Competency and the appealing lead performances of franchise MVP’s Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are all this trying-too-hard entry has to keep it from entering Exorcist II: The Heretic infamy. As the third in this series but a knee-deep-into-franchise fatigue entry, its past the glories of the first two, nowhere near as fun and occasionally petrifying as any Annabelle installment, slightly better than The Nun and completely on par with The Curse of La LLorona. The latter film is from Michael Chaves, the same director here, which explains a lot: Chaves is fond of staging admittedly impressive long-pan shots, an occasionally jolting image and an over-use of sudden bursts of loud music to administer a simple jump scare. The soundtrack doesn’t just have a “shriek chord,” but a bombardment of noise akin to suddenly blasting your stereo, which is just irritating.
The plot: faith-based ghostbusters Lorraine and Ed Warren (Farmiga and Wilson) take on the case of a young boy whose body is literally being twisted and contorted (an unsettling bit of CGI) by demonic possession. After freeing the kid via exorcism, the boy’s older brother immediately starts showing signs that the spooky spirit now resides within him. A murder case arises, and the Warren’s are looking for legal representation for a kid whose legal defense is The Devil Made Me Do It. To think what the kid’s defense would have been were the subtitle Cruise Control or Electric Boogaloo.
This is “based on a true story,” just like Amityville II: The Possession (which, come to think of it, this has a lot in common with).
Does it sound like this movie made me a skeptic? Here’s what I genuinely don’t believe and find truly shocking: the Warren’s approach a lawyer to represent this creepy teen and the attorney says they must prove the supernatural is real in order for her to proceed. Lorraine accepts, tells the lawyer to come with them to their house, where “you can meet Annabelle.” They cut to the next scene, where the lawyer is now representing the supposedly possessed teen. Why on Earth would the filmmakers skip what is potentially the juiciest scene in the movie? Are you kidding, a scene where the Warren’s take a disbelieving lawyer into their basement and allow Annabelle the demon doll to give ‘em a wave, all for the likely to be traumatized lawyer to go pro bono? Now that’s a movie! How could they think to cut that? I watched all the way through the end credits- the scene ain’t here.
On the other hand, because this takes place in the 1970’s, there’s an effort to make a waterbed and Blondie’s Call Me scary. The former has never been scary (not even A Nightmare on Elm St. 4: The Dream Master could pull that off) and the rockin’ thrum of Call Me will never compare to Tiny Tim’s Tip Toe Through the Tulips or hundreds of other actually scary 70’s pop tunes. When this franchise is still active forty years later, will they try to render selfie sticks and Katy Perry tunes as scare fodder?
The pre-title exorcism at least has a sympathetic family to root for, while the climatic one is just lots of wind, shouting, explosions and obvious CGI. The end credits reveal this borrows soundtrack cues from End of Days and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which isn’t the same as “stealing from the best.”
Ed and Lorraine Warren are as bland, square but charismatic as Scully and Mulder and the film gets by when they’re the focus. No one else in the supporting cast is as compelling as Wilson or Farmiga, though a close second goes to Eugenie Bondurant, who is very good as the central new villain; I won’t reveal the name of Bondurant’s character, which is guaranteed to be the name of an upcoming spinoff from “The Conjuring Universe.” There’s also a recurring monster that literally resembles a waterlogged Meat Loaf, which made the audience I saw this with laugh hysterically every time he appeared, which couldn’t have been what the filmmakers intended.
I like this franchise a lot, mainly because the emphasis is on suspense, scares and atmosphere over gore or torture, but this installment is another indication that the franchise needs a TKO to course correct itself. We’re in Tokyo Drift territory here.
The best scene here is when a cop demands that Lorraine prove her psychic powers to him- it’s a clever, funny, and unshowy scene and the movie could have used more like it. You know you’re in trouble when Annabelle the demon doll, who does nothing but sit and stare, has better luck starring in horror movies than Wilson and Farmiga.