Spoiler Warning: Read at your own discretion.
With autumn just around the corner, there is nothing better than a good haunted house movie.
I remember the first haunted house movie I truly savored: The Haunting, the 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, a classic. A fan of the movie as a child, and a fan of the novel as an adult, this is truly the scariest story I’ve experienced. Which begs the question, why?
Suspense. True suspense. The kind that gives shudders, not from gore or cheap tricks, but dramatic irony. Within The Haunting film, this was completed through the unseen and intelligently placed sounds and music. The novel in its own right can be defined as the scariest book ever written, but I will give my thoughts on that in a novel review.
The Conjuring (2013) movie followed much of the same formula of The Haunting for haunted house films (please note I am specifically referring to stories that primarily revolve around a haunted house, not all horror and suspense films). Although there are some gory visual effects added to the climax of the film--which honestly could’ve been left out--the better part of it did the artistry of suspense well. It was the first haunted house movie I’d seen in a decade that came close to that dramatic suspense without excessively throwing in visuals of gore upon gore and hidden Victorian torture rooms.
I cannot say the same for its predecessors. Although enjoyable, The Conjuring series with each succeeding film gives more into the cheap pop-culture horror tricks of the day. It's the trap that unspokenly tells us that sequels need to be “bigger,” “scarier,” and “grosser,” as opposed to clever writing and new surprising character insights. The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made me Do it is a prime example of how far a series can fall into this trap.
I won’t lie, I still thoroughly enjoyed watching The Conjuring 3. I created fond memories of watching it with my husband in a small theatre in Buena Vista, CA. It was my first time visiting California, and we decided to go to the movies after tedious hours of driving. For me, this is a perfect way to end the day.
But upon the first jump scare, I felt it: the cringe factor. That moment you draw in your shoulders and you think “why?”, “oh honey,” or “eww.” I felt none of the same suspense that brought me to love the first film. Although curious enough to continue watching to the end, that cringe factor did not fade. It increased to the point that my suspended disbelief faded into oblivion by the third act.
More importantly, the film drifted from the haunted house formula established by its direct predecessors (meaning The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, not all the films set in its universe) and became a witch/sorcery magic story. The only thing missing was swords, which the writers not so subtly replaced with an ax. Not that variation within a series is negative; it can be refreshing when done proficiently while still maintaining the rules set in that world. But this one seemed to deviate so far that it no longer felt like I was watching a Conjuring film. I instead watched a Dungeons and Dragons one-shot. Objective: get to the dungeon of the evil witch and defeat her overpowered boss magic. This film even had a cavern to add to the effect of delving into the witch's dungeon.
Overall, this film is fun but contains nothing that connects it to the previous films, except for the characters' names. Based on a true story? Maybe, with a lot of liberties, I might add. Don’t expect it to be anything more than what it is.
Thanks for reading. As always---enjoy life!