Tag Archives: C

THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT

Producers: James Wan and Peter Safran   Director: Michael Chaves   Screenplay: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick   Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Shannon Kook, Keith Arthur Bolden, Steve Coulter, Vince Pisani, Sterling Jerins, Paul Wilson, Charlene Amoia, Ingrid Bisu, Andrea Andrade and Ronnie Gene Blevins   Distributor: Warner Brothers/New Line

Grade: C

Of the previous seven movies in what’s referred to as “The Conjuring Universe,” the only two that were much good were the two actual “Conjuring” titles.  The remaining five—the three “Annabelle” pictures, “The Nun” and “The Curse of La Llorana”—were all either mediocre or awful.

That might make one hopeful about “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” which returns Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson to the forefront of things as paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. Unfortunately, while slickly made, it proves the weakest of the “Conjuring” trio, an over-plotted, frantic disappointment in what had been a superior horror series.

The plot is based on one of the Warrens’ most talked-about cases, the 1981 trial of Arnie Johnson, an alleged murderer whose defense rested on the argument that he’d been possessed at the time of the killing.  Supposedly the demon had entered him when he invited it to do so during the exorcism of David Glatzel, a young boy who was the brother of Johnson’s girlfriend.  (Like Father Karras of “The Exorcist,” he acted out of a desire to save the child.)  It was purportedly the demon that had control when Johnson killed his landlord.

The bulk of the plot, somewhat simplified from the Warrens’ account of the incident, follows Ed, and especially Lorraine (since Ed, who was present with her at the original exorcism, suffered a heart attack in his struggle with David) as they track down the source of the curse that summoned the demon in the first place.  It’s a complicated process that starts back at the Glatzel house, where they find a satanic totem in the basement that turned a water bed into a devilish instrument (one of the funnier elements of the story), takes a detour to a town where another murder had occurred, and then to a morgue where the dead return to life, and finally ends up at an underground altar that’s the source of the hellish activity.  In the course of the search Lorraine exhibits remarkable visionary powers that reveal much of what has been happening.

Meanwhile Arnie is ensconced in prison awaiting trial, still under the demon’s power, which exhibits itself in increasingly terrifying ways.  But Lorraine and Ed manage to break the spell and free the young man by destroying the person who initiated the curse—though the judge refuses to allow a plea of innocence by reason of possession. 

The opening exorcism scene gets things going strongly, with Julian Hilliard, as the boy, going through some striking contortions—aided, of course, by CGI.  It also contains one of the film’s wittiest moments:  the image of the priest (Steve Coulter) arriving that mimics precisely the famous shot of Father Merrin’s arrival in “The Exorcist.”  (Unfortunately the importuning by Arnie to the demon to leave the boy and inhabit him is slackly choreographed, though overall Ruairi O’Connor does a fine job as the accused man.)

From then on, however, the film grows increasingly disappointing.  The murder scene is ineptly staged, those involving an elderly ex-priest (John Noble) are ponderous, and the sequences of Lorraine’s visions of past deaths, which reveal much of the solution to the mystery, are chaotic and excessively gruesome.  Worst is the finale, which juxtaposes Arnie’s deterioration in the prison hospital with the frenetic efforts of the Warrens to defeat the guilty party; set in a maze of tunnels, it’s drawn-out unconscionably. 

Though there are occasional effective jump scares along the way, they’re not sufficient to make up for the defects.  The coda that reveals the outcome of the trial is also a dud, since the basis for the jury’s decision is never examined, though the excerpts from the Warrens’ actual tapes and interviews that accompany the closing credit crawls are interesting, though flatter than the dramatization.

The relative decline in quality here can’t be blamed on Farmiga or Wilson, both of whom continue to give their all to these characters, while O’Connor and Hilliard are standouts in the supporting cast.  (By contrast, Noble and Eugenie Bondurant, as his daughter, are especially unconvincing.)  Nor can the visuals be faulted; though the editing by Peter Gvozdas and Christian Wagner is sometimes too hectic (especially in the finale), Jennifer Spence’s production design and Leah Butler’s costumes are excellent, as is Michael Burgess’s glossy cinematography.  The effects are solid, and Joseph Bishara’s score is certainly robust.

Perhaps the inferiority of this “Conjuring” derives from the fact that James Wan,, who directed the first two installments, turned over the helming duties to Michael Chaves, who was responsible for one of the weakest entries in the franchise, “La Llorona.”  His work here has more energy than it evinced in that 2019 effort, but it still lacks distinction.

As is usual in this sort of “true story” supernatural fare, there are nay-sayers who challenge the basic premises of the Warrens’ account.  (They were, after all, also involved in the “Amityville Horror” business that is generally agreed to have been a hoax.)  But whether you want to believe in the demonic possession foundation of “The Devil Made Me Do It” or not, the unhappy fact is that this third installment in the “Conjuring” trilogy is an inferior episode in what has until now been one of the better modern horror series.          

EDGE OF THE WORLD

Producers: Rob Allyn, Josie Ho and Conroy Chan   Director: Michael Haussman   Screenplay: Rob Allyn   Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Dominic Monaghan, Atiqa Hasiholan, Otto Farrant, Samo Rafael, Bront Palarae, Shaheizy Sam, Hannah New, Yusuf Mahardika, Peter John, Kahar Bin Jini, Ralph Ineson and Josie Ho   Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Grade:  C+

Rob Allyn is an ambitious fellow.  Not long ago the actor-turned-producer was the producer and co-writer of “No Man’s Land,” which took on, though with only marginal success, the crisis at the southern U.S. border and the personal biases that underlie it.  Now he attempts a “Lawrence of Arabia”-style inquiry into the psyche of Sir James Brooke, a nineteenth-century British adventurer who was granted suzerainty by the sultan of Brunei over the region of Sarawak on the island of Borneo and ruled there as Rajah for more than a quarter-century, bringing reform and relative stability to the region.

The screenplay by Allyn doesn’t attempt a full biography, however.  Though captions at the end sketch his later life, the film covers just the years from the late 1830s to the early 1840s, when Brooke, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, arrived on Borneo along with his cousin Arthur (Dominic Monaghan) and nephew Charley (Otto Farrant) on a schooner, the Royalist, that he had purchased with his inheritance and proceeded to finagle his way to a position of political power in the island’s northwest.

Brooke, who had already come to question British imperialist methods during his involvement in the East India Company and had suffered financial setbacks in attempts to profit from maritime trade, arrived in Sarawak in 1839 to engage, he said, in scientific research.  But he eventually became embroiled in putting down a rebellion against rule from Brunei there, as well as in Brunei court politics, and was eventually named governor, Rajah, of Sarawak.

“Edge of the World” simplifies, and occasionally fiddles with, history, for example confusing or conflating two separate princes—Muda Hasim, with whom Brooke allied politically, and Badruddin, his favorite (and, it is conjectured, intimate).  But in its general outline the script is not wildly inaccurate.

What is invented, or imagined, is its effort to draw a psychological portrait of Brooke as a man torn between two worlds, just as T.E. Lawrence was depicted in Robert Bolt’s screenplay for David Lean’s epic: he’s finally forced to jettison his British habit of rationality and embrace the savagery of the environment in which he finds himself.  There’s nothing inherent wrong with such a dramatic understanding of his character.  Unfortunately, Michael Haussman’s realization of the idea is too often heavy-handed; especially in its final stages, the story is drenched in a blurred, soggy atmosphere that’s like a cinematic fever dream.  Lean’s film used stillness with great acuity; Haussman’s often seems merely lugubrious.

Nonetheless Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives a sensitive performance as Brooke, initially conveying his adventurous spirit and emotional reserve and later his increasing identification with the locals, especially when he falls under the influence of two women, Madame Lim (Josie Ho) and the lovely Princess Fatima (Atiqa Hasiholan), who becomes his wife.  (His narration, on the other hand, is often exasperatingly florid.)

Dominic Monaghan provides contrast as Arthur, who never abandons his pro-British stance (mirrored in the attitude of a British captain played by Ralph Ineson, whose main interest is in claiming Sarawak for the crown), and Farrant exudes the fervent support of Brooke by Charley, who ultimately became his successor as Rajah.  More strident is Hannah New as Elizabeth, Arthur’s wife, who’s here presented not merely as a condescending European but as James’s former lover, who bore his illegitimate child (the actual mother of the boy Brooke later accepted as his remains unknown).

Among the local actors, Hasiholan is excellent as Fatima, and so are Samo Rafael and Bront Palarae as Princes Badruddin and Makhota, political rivals who ultimately take very different stances toward Brooke, the suave former becoming his confidant (and perhaps more), and the cruel latter, while happily using the British cannons early on, his most determined and dangerous opponent.

The film is elegantly made, in Sarawak itself.  Paul Hasham’s production design and Akma Suriati Awang’s costumes are on point, and Jaime Feliu-Torres’ cinematography captures the mystery of the jungle and the exoticism of the Brunei culture with admirable finesse.  Will Bates’s score is also effective.

But one can criticize the editing of Marco Perez which, in conjunction with Haussman’s direction, opts for a languid pace that submerges the dramatic possibilities in a morass of mood and hallucinatory suggestion.

“Edge of the World” is, ultimately, an intriguing portrait of a fascinating historical figure undermined by the director’s inclination to confuse turgidity with profundity.