Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are back as the beloved Warrens in the third “Conjuring” movie. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Third ‘Conjuring’ shows signs of demonic fatigue

New director revisits the Warrens in slightly tired sequel

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The third in the “Conjuring” series and the eighth in the “Conjuring Universe” franchise, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” returns viewers to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who are perhaps the most adorable married paranormal investigators in cinema history.

Opening Friday in theaters, the new sequel, like the other “Conjuring” movies, is somewhat based on a real Warren case file.

However, the credits — “written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on a story by James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on characters created by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes” — suggest some fictionalizing occurred.

Not many supernatural horror movies are based on true stories, and the ones that are, like the couple-of-hundred “Amityville” movies, or “The Haunting in Connecticut,” are not very good.

When “The Conjuring,” directed by Wan, emerged in the summer of 2013, and turned out to be well above average, perhaps close to outstanding, it sparked a little metaphysical tingle. It was only a movie, of course, but if even the slightest bit were true, wouldn’t the world be a most amazing and mind-blowing place?

Wan’s 2016 “The Conjuring 2” was just as good, but “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” seems to have lost curiosity about the supernatural. It feels more like a late-series episode of “The X-Files” — still OK, but just a little tired. In some ways, it’s hardly a horror film. It’s more like “A Few Good Men,” a courtroom drama with lawyers or detectives scrambling to find clues that will exonerate their innocent client before court resumes on Monday.

It begins in 1981 with an exorcism in progress. A young, bespectacled boy, David (Julian Hilliard), is host to a nasty demon, who makes his body contort into impossible shapes, accompanied by a boney “clicking” sound.

The Warrens are present, as are David’s older sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), and Debbie’s boyfriend Arne (Ruairi O’Connor). Arne — who seems to have a special bond with the boy — grabs David and shouts at the demon, “Leave him alone! Take me!”

And everything goes quiet, but not before Ed has suffered a heart-attack.

Eventually, Ed recovers, and things seem back to normal, but suddenly Arne has visions of a family friend, Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins), as a monster attacking Debbie. He grabs a knife and stabs the monster 22 times, but there was no monster — just Bruno.

Arne goes to jail, and the Warrens manage to convince his lawyer — with one very clever edit — that he is not guilty by reason of demonic possession. The couple is then tasked with tracking down proof that will please a court of law.

But when the Warrens find a strange witches’ totem beneath David’s room, Lorraine realizes that this is no ordinary demon possession; someone summoned the demon.

As “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is still a horror movie, its director Michael Chaves dutifully tries to include some scares.

But, like in 2019’s “The Curse of La Llorona” — the sixth “Conjuring Universe” movie — the scares are a little lackluster. Loud, sudden “boo!” jumps, things rushing at the camera, and skittery sound effects that were once unsettling have become too familiar.

With its generic scares, this movie also doesn’t particularly care about connecting to reality, save for a few end-title factoids, photos and a recording of the opening exorcism. The filmmakers seem interested in simply getting through the story.

Still, we viewers love the Warrens. They’re a fantastic team, Wilson a little goofy and Farmiga a little ethereal.

This sequel attempts to deepen their history by showing their storybook romance, meeting cute at a showing of “The Three Musketeers” (1948, with Lana Turner and Gene Kelly), young Ed an usher gazing into young Lorraine’s eyes while tearing her ticket.

Years later, they are a funny married couple. In one scene, Ed tries to dissuade Lorraine from exploring a spider-web-encrusted, rat-infested crawlspace by warning her she’ll get her dress dirty.

“Just hold my purse,” she says, as snappishly and as lovingly as any wife ever has.

It was clear from the outset we’d revisit these worthy characters. Now that we’ve seen them in four movies (2019’s “Annabelle Comes Home” in addition to “The Conjuring” and “Conjuring 2”), it’s worth asking: Are there more stories to tell? Or should we let them retire in peace?

Maybe if they go home to their rumpus room filled with cursed artifacts, evil books and demon-summoning trinkets, we’ll once again, with a sense of terror, wonder if there’s more to this world than we know.

REVIEW

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

★★★

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook

Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick

Directed by: Michael Chaves

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

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