We’re up to the eighth movie in the Conjuring series, but the third entry in the core franchise about paranormal investigators the Warrens is unfortunately the weakest to date. The breakout film here is The Conjuring 2, which harnessed a famous story (The Enfield poltergeist) brought in fresh locations (the UK in the 70’s) and brought a brand new set of scary bells and whistles to the ghost-hunter genre. Maybe it’s due to pandemic delays, maybe the mojo has been lost, but The Conjuring 3 feels dispiritingly more like a knock-off rather than an official continuation.
Played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, Ed and Lorraine Warren return to another real-life case, this time a courtroom case in which demonic possession was cited as a cause circa 1981. A demon sneaks out of a body during an exorcism and into the body of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) who promptly murders his landlord while under the influence of Satanic possession. Ed and Lorraine suspect the involvement of a Satanic master and aim to track the culprit down while the demon plans another visit to Arne in jail.
And that’s your lot; plot-wise, this is easily a step down from the first two films. That said, there are some choice moments here, from a young boy’s encounter with a witch in a waterbed to a lovely chat between a cop and the Warrens where she teases him about her meetings with Elvis, alive and dead. It’s the only funny scene in a series once known for dark humour; thinking of the persuasive details on Conjuring 2, from The Goodies on the tv to the use of the Bee Gees I Started a Joke, there’s absolutely nothing like that at all in Michael Chaves’s film; the flavour is missing. It’s an elevated genre piece that someone forgot to elevate.
The Conjuring films have been better than required to date, largely due to the happy centre of Wilson and Farmiga, who both turn in strong performances here and push the narrative forward even when the story seems rote. James Wan’s franchise seems to have lost momentum in too many side-stories and dead ends, and unless Wan and co are nursing a seriously good idea to top the franchise off, the dull prison and basement finale here should provide a tired full-stop to a series collapsing under the weight of its own over-extension.