2021 has been quite a year thus far for all the things that get me. Netflix aired the documentary “Sons of Sam” which leans into the satanic panic conspiracy theories espoused by Maury Terry in his book “The Ultimate Evil.” And then, the forces behind the theatrical juggernaut Conjuring-verse have resuscitated the “Devil Made Me Do It” case, which loomed large in my 80’s Connecticut-based childhood.
I’ve waxed plenty nostalgic about it here, and though I want to avoid rehashing what I’ve already said countless of times ad infinitum, I will need to revisit the trial of Arne Johnson, Gerald Brittle’s rotten book “The Devil in Connecticut,” and our sainted paladins of the paranormal, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It
Director: Michael Chaves
Writers: David Leslie, Johnson-McGoldrick
Notable Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Eugenie Bondurant, Julian Hilliard, Sarah Catherine Hook, John Noble
Plot Summary: A chilling story of terror, murder and unknown evil that shocked even experienced real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. One of the most sensational cases from their files, it starts with a fight for the soul of a young boy, then takes them beyond anything they’d ever seen before, to mark the first time in U.S. history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defense. (Source: imdb user Tiboriyo)
(Spoilers) I don’t really know how to begin breaking down my thoughts on this film. Let’s tackle it in poorly transitioned chunks.
With my obsession with the Brookfield Connecticut case, I’m just incapable of disliking The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
I’ll say that it lacks the formalist gothic terror of the first movie. It also doesn’t have the delightful, relentless phantasmagoria of the second. There are similar jump scares and supernatural thrills, but they’re not as innovative. Only the parts where Lorraine uses her X-Men-esque psi powers offer something fresh.
Perhaps the best shooting and cinematography was in the sequences set in the lair of “The Occultist.” But again, few surprises, only a smattering of things we have not seen before.
Plotwise, the movie shone when it focused on the side mystery that the Warrens were forced to solve, less so when it stuck to the events related in the “The Devil in Connecticut.” I don’t believe that the plot and pacing were bad, though, and the opening exorcism sequence event was excellent.
Wilson and Farmiga continue to charm the world with their depiction of a sweet, pious everlasting love. We’ve reason to believe the real life Warrens were not so wonderful, but why beat that point to death? I’m okay if audiences want to celebrate an idealized conservative love story.
Am I, though?
There’s really no performance to fault, especially Ruari O’Connor as possessed murderer Arne Johnson and the highly creepy, enigmatic turns by John Noble and Eugenie Bondurant.
YOUR TRIBUTE SUCKS C***S IN HELL: A BRITTLE DISPOSITION
No, I was not impressed by the Exorcist tribute shot of the priest arriving at the Glatzel residence. Quit cheaply cuing a classic, it’s an empty gesture. Furthermore, it seems to me no one in the Conjuring-verse has ever actually even seen The Exorcist, otherwise cinematic Arne Johnson would have known better than to try the tired “TAKE ME YOU COWARD!” attempt at freeing his nephew.
Gerald Brittle was the writer that colluded with the Warrens back in the 80’s to write the best selling “The Devil in Connecticut.” He stole heavily from The Exorcist in his schlocky narrative, including a 180 degree head turn (really, dude?), as well as this plot point of Arne sacrificing himself for David Glatzel’s sake.
Aside from that trash, one of Brittle’s wild allegations was also responsible for the better parts of the film. In the book, he claims the Glatzels were cursed by a black magic-happy neighbor.
A DEMON DELIGHTS!
In the movie, possessed David Glatzel (Julian Hillard) was badass. I’m a fan of awesome possessed cinematic characters that kick ass and give voice to their frustrations and societal ills. Check out the ass kicking powerhouse that is Gladys Foster in Legion.
I wanted cinematic David Glatzel to slap the living fuck out of the Warrens, if only because the real life Warrens would have deserved it.
I’m a fan of possessions that actually empower the possessed and give a voice to their frustrations. And water beds are tacky. So this demon did the right things more often than not.
SHOWDOWN IN PRIM, VICTORIAN DRESS
Then there’s “The Occultist,” as played by Eugenie Bondurant.
Per Gerald Brittle:
“The family had been cursed…a death curse, in fact, had been put on the Glatzels. The Glatzel family…considered the people who cursed them to be friends—their best friends. However, these people were Satanists, and in order to derive benefit from a high devil, they purposefully bound the two boys to a curse—or a pledge of the soul.”Gerald Brittle, “The Devil in Connecticut”
This claim of course is some grade a level fictional bullshit. But, here’s where the film makers’ imagination ran wild and I was there for it. The Occultist, nee Isla, had a delicious satanic panic origin. Imagine being a priest’s illegitimate daughter, as though that’s enough to make you just eeeeevil?
But, and this is the kicker…..the ex-priest dad kept a whole bunch of occult, evil shit in his basement. JUST LIKE THE WARRENS THEMSELVES. When the Warrens confront Dad, he warns them: “beware of how your children absorb your own fascinations.”
This statement is just some general satanic panic deliciousness. You love The Smurfs? You’re endangering your child! You have an interest in esoterica and alternative religious thought? You’re a terrible parent!
I shouldn’t take glee in such things, because we’re not past the satanic panic, not when QAnon exists. But there will always be an 80’s teen in me, one that loves the transgressive thrill of the things that drove the era’s moral crusaders into a frenzy. James Wan, through his extended , collaborative narrative, has leaned into it and I’m here for it!
A SHITTY THING HAPPENS IN THE CREDITS
I’m going to close this post with my idea of responsibility, such as it is. The end credits feature a recording of the real-life David Glatzel’s exorcism. To the untrained ear and mind this might look “authentic” or deliver spooky thrills. But I can’t reiterate enough that you should look into Carl and David Glatzel’s experiences with the Warrens, and the ultimate exploitation of the mental health of the younger Glatzel brother.
Don’t buy into the false narrative. Respect the two children—yes, children—who were used without agency. Don’t make Brittle or the estate of the Warrens any richer.