The new Conjuring movie completes one of the greatest horror threequels ever put to film. Not only that, it reminds the audience of how good the first two were, how genre-defining this series turned out to be.
I realized I hadn’t written a full review of the first or second one, so I’ll lump in some thoughts on the full series. It’s a great trilogy that deserves a second-look and a post to tie it all together. (We’ll probably get a fourth, because sequels, but let’s try to enjoy these 3 in the meantime.)
So, let’s dive in!
The Conjuring Universe
The first Conjuring movie came out in 2013, in the middle of a semi-golden age for horror movies. Some of the most successful horror franchises were getting started or coming into their own, like Insidious, Sinister, as well as stand-alone films that were even better. Comedy-horror was finding a foothold, every Stephen King movie apparently needed a reboot, and for the most part the quality of the genre remained very high. (Check out some of my favorites from the decade here!)
Things have certainly changed since then. Horror movies now are more likely to have a message or deeper connection with the real world, which I’d argue is a good thing, and any successful film is given 2 or 3 sequels (at least). There are certainly some blockbuster releases that have been let-downs, some downright bad. More than a few of those cursed movies were sold as part of the Conjuring universe, which has brought with it plenty of pros and cons.
The Conjuring multiverse is a wonder and a complicated maze. Few horror franchises (maybe none) have ever created a Marvel-like universe around their films. There have certainly been ridiculous sequels, like the Saw or Friday the 13th movies, but rarely have they branched out in such a worldbuilding way. That makes Conjuring unique, wildly influential, and important.
To date, there have been 3 Annabelle movies, 2 spinoffs, and now the 3 main Conjuring films. The non-Conjuring movies have very little punch behind them. The Nun was not good, none of the Annabelle movies lived up to the hype, and La Llorona had only a few redeeming qualities. So while the Conjuring multiverse hasn’t been full of great quality, it is a remarkable milestone for the horror genre.
All of that started because Conjuring 1 and 2 depended on two star actors playing Ed and Lorraine Warren. Their performances were strong enough to connect with a global audience, captivate Hollywood, and spawn these other side-films. What those spin-offs (even the Annabelle ones) lacked is what made the series so special. Their two key actors, carrying the movies on their shoulders.
Conjuring 1 and 2… Quickly
The Conjuring: This introduced many audiences (including me) to Ed and Lorraine Warren for the first time, played by (ROYAL COUPLE OF 2010’s HORROR) Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. They’re seriously in so many good horror movies. This movie really set them on fire, as both gave historic performances.
The film has a plethora of good jump scares, the best in the series, but more importantly it builds tension so well. Throw in a healthy amount of 70’s-era nostalgia, phenomenal directing and color schemes, as well as a creepy, Insidious-like “second world” of spiritualism and spirit-talking, this movie had everything. It blew up in the box office, spawned an entire freaking universe of horror, and led many to speculate about what would be next.
The Conjuring 2: After the wild success of the first movie, the first true sequel would make-or-break the series. Thankfully, the film makers knew what to do. The movie is similar, but the scares are totally unique, and more importantly they found their secret sauce. This movie depends solely on Wilson and Farmiga to carry it, as their marriage and their selflessness entranced audiences. The two of them are perfect protagonists, offering comfort, wisdom, and expertise.
Pitting them against frightening (spinoff-worthy) villains like the Nun and the Crooked Man gave this movie even more of an Insidious-feel, but what set it apart was Ed and Lorraine. Their relationship would carry the movie into a third, though audiences would have to wait 5 years before it came out.
In hindsight, it makes sense for the third movie to double-down on their star leads, to dig even deeper into their marriage and their paranormal expertise. But all of those threads were already glowing in this second movie, which I actually consider better than the first.
Conjuring 3: The Devil made Me Review It
Whew! Now that we’ve gone over the first 2 movies and the series as a whole, you’re all caught up. You have a better sense of what really led to this third Conjuring movie and how up-and-down the series has been. Needless to say, I didn’t know what to expect going into this one. I’d gotten mixed reviews from friends and online reviewers. The title and trailer weren’t awesome. So I dove in with abandon, expecting to be let down…
And once again, this movie absolutely floored me.
This movie’s plot is really something to marvel at. It might be better than either of the first two in that regard. It certainly grabs you right away, like the others, but that tension never really subsides. The entire movie leaves you waiting for the next scene, watching as one character spirals into madness, while the Warrens are in a race against time (and health).
It’s a credit to the script, the writing, and the director at how well the scene is set. With just a few scenes, you feel connected to the young couple who are being haunted, and you can already guess at some of the tragedies that will occur. There’s also more of a mystery element to this, which plays well into Ed Warren’s character, and for most of the movie he and his wife are investigating together. Their dynamics with each other are important and lead to more exciting plot twists.
Speaking of plot twists, the “bad guy” in this movie is maybe the strongest yet. She manages to be frightening and heartless, but the film gives her plenty of screen time. Compare that to the Nun, who couldn’t carry her own movie because she just wasn’t… scary once you got to see her enough. That’s never a problem in this film, as the witch (maybe she has a name?) is on screen quite a bit. She even has one or two conversations, but every word adds to the suspense. I appreciate how this antagonist isn’t dependent on glowing eyes or a freaky nun costume to be effective, something that plagued other spinoffs in the series.
I didn’t see most of the twists coming, especially the ones related to the antagonist. She’s a mysterious, powerful figure throughout the whole runtime, and she manages to haunt almost every character at some point. While we don’t get to see much of a humanity in her, we do get a powerful scene with her parent (I won’t give away the identity) with the awesome line, “We must be careful how our obsessions are passed to our children.” You just don’t get stuff like that in other horror franchises.
The backbone of this movie, its driving force, is the Warrens. They’re given more screen time together than ever, more backstory, and for the first time they’re both directly under attack. Throw in Ed’s clear expertise, despite his declining health, and Lorraine’s witty, strong decisions, these two are better than ever. They even get a few scenes with the young couple, who have clear similarities to them, and that reflective relationship makes their own seem even more powerful.
I felt like Conjuring 2 was Ed’s movie to shine, as he came through in some major ways. With this one, it feels like all Lorraine’s. She’s the one making tough choices, pushing the limit, willing to sacrifice everything. She solves a majority of the mysteries and presses forward, even when Ed can’t. It’s a great acting job and a phenomenal character write.
I haven’t watched the previous two movies in a while, so maybe this has always been the case, but there were a handful of times that left me confused, not in a good way. Whether it was a strange cut scene or a legitimate scene that felt rushed and out of place, the movie definitely had a few road bumps. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, and I think you can see the potential cracks in the franchise more clearly than ever.
These aren’t deal breakers by any means. You might not even notice them. But for me, it was a stark reminder of one cold truth. No franchise can make great movies forever. And with a fourth film definitely on the way, I think they’re getting close to that line. With each sequel, the chances of a flop get even higher. I guess we’ll see what happens.
The main characters in this are off-the-charts good. The young couple, the Warrens, the antagonist and her backstory. All excellent. But the side villains aren’t as good in this movie, not even close. We’ve come a long way from the Crooked Man and the Nun, who were both side villains at one point. Nobody in this movie except for the lead bad guy would be worthy of their own movie. (And thankfully, it doesn’t seem like the witch will get her spinoff. Yay for one less spinoff!)
This movie definitely had a chance to fill out some of the setting with side characters, etc., but it stuck mostly to the Warrens. Even their children, protagonists of one Annabelle movie, don’t make much of an impact or appearance. It’s perplexing, not necessarily a bad thing, but it does hint at a problem for the series moving forward. Ed and Lorraine are both getting old (I truly mean the characters, not actors). What do you do when they can no longer fill those shoes?
It seems to be the question throughout this movie, as they battle a sinister foe, more powerful than ever, but also their own mortality. Both the characters and the filmmakers will have to answer that question if they want to make a fourth Conjuring movie, but for now I’ll bask in the aftermath of another great film.
I really enjoyed this movie. It hit all the right notes, had some genuine scares, and the emotional side of it was better than ever. Such an excellent sequel that I didn’t expect. This movie holds firm to Ed and Lorraine’s characters, but pits them against a frightening, mortal villain, even as they battle their own mortality. Fascinating plot choices lead to a thrilling conclusion.
I’ll go ahead and list my ratings for all 3 movies below, since I wrote about them so much here.