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Jun 14, 2021

'Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It': Father Vince Breaks Down the Demonic Thriller

A big fan of movies and TV adapted from other media, our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, also likes to check out original stories.

The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third installment of The Conjuring horror-movie series, inspired by the work of Catholic demonologists and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). It's again (very) loosely based on one of their cases, in which a man claimed demonic possession as a legal defense in a fatal stabbing.

These films are part of the larger Conjuring Universe, created by filmmaker James Wan, which include three films focusing on the possessed Annabelle doll, The Nun (starring Vera Farmiga's younger sister, Taissa), and The Curse of La Llarona.

Family Theater Productions' National Director and Head of Production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C., blessed the set of Annabelle: Creation (mentioned at the top of this story in The Hollywood Reporter), the second in that series. He also toured the Romania set of The Nun (more on that here).

And now, here's my conversation with Father Vince on the new movie (SOME MARKED SPOILERS BELOW) ... Kate O'Hare, editor

Where did you watch The Conjuring: the Devil Made Me Do It?

In our offices, on lunch breaks during my first full week back at Family Theater Productions, as our studio recently reopened for in-person work.

However, horror films done well really need to be seen on the big screen as they rely heavily on sound. I remember watching the first film in my hometown’s multiplex at 11 a.m., and I still endured a sleepless night later that day.

Is this latest chapter of The Conjuring an original story?

Absolutely. Almost every iteration of the exorcism-horror genre deals with an innocent mistake on the part of the protagonist that welcomes in the demonic: playing around with a Ouija board or moving into an already infested house.

I’ve always wondered whether filmmakers would tackle the truly malicious … an antagonist placing a curse on someone else for the “fun” of it. We end up with a mixed bag, a female occultist indiscriminately places curses, and one happens to latch onto a character that invited in the demonic hoping to free his girlfriend’s younger brother from possession.

(Editor's note: For what it's worth, in his book An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, the late Father Gabriele Amorth, a Rome-based exorcist, says he believes in the ability of people to summon demons to curse others.)

You and Father Guffey have done some consulting work on the Conjuring Universe, although not on this particular movie. What technical notes did they hit well? What opportunities did they miss?

SPOILER WARNING

So, to break a curse, one would have to destroy the physical conduit used by the person who laid the curse. In this film, Ed Warren cracks a Satanic altar with one swing of a sledgehammer. When I thought of spiritual things in the inverse, it struck me that they (no pun intended) hit this one well.

I remember, during my pastoral year in Portland, Oregon, when we installed a beautiful new altar. The area had dealt with church vandalism at the time. I asked the transitional deacon who headed the project what would happen if someone broke into the church and laid waste to the altar.

He explained the moment someone struck it and caused permanent damage, it ceased to be an altar and would need reconsecration by the local bishop. The theology gave some bit of consolation. If a vandal repeatedly struck it, he or she would only be hitting a slab of marble after the initial strike.

I thought the film missed an opportunity by not making the person laying the curse solely responsible for the protagonist’s possession. The scariest thing about curses is that, if someone truly wanted to curse another person, there’s nothing they could personally do about it during the curse and after the fact.

The only protection against a curse is practicing one’s faith, which would essentially work as a prophylactic: if a person frequents the Sacraments and prays, they would have nothing to worry about if a curse were subsequently sent their way.

The movie – indeed, all The Conjuring films – blend the paranormal, psychic visions and the supernatural with Catholic piety. How should Catholics think about this?

The series is accurate in that real-life possessions are rarely clear-cut. There’s almost always something additionally present, where the exorcist must work with a clinical psychologist to determine the case isn’t just neurosis or psychosis or something else.

The devil picks on those who are mentally unstable. It would also use those dabbling in the occult or innocently trying to summons a dead relative as a window in.

That’s why I feel the series, and this movie in particular, function as detective stories: the Warrens investigate each case and determine whether Catholic prayer is the appropriate response. Sometimes, faulty plumbing accounts for the previously unexplainable noises, in other very rare instances, it’s something supernatural.

How does this third Conjuring film compare with others of the genre?

I was taken back to my undergraduate days when we learned of intertextualization, meaning one film either explicitly or implicitly referencing another film.

The opening of this film shows the priest (Steve Coulter) exiting a taxi and looking up at the ominously placed farmhouse. The camera pauses a moment, a shot reminiscent of the late Max von Sydow’s priest from the 1973 film The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin, and written by Catholic William Peter Blatty (from his novel of the same name). It was an emotional homage to the nonagenarian actor, who died right before shutdown in March, 2020.

That this film was one of the first released in America’s re-opening arrived with wonderful timing. If Hollywood can safely film, edit and distribute horror films, we too, can resume our lives free of fear.

Here's the film's trailer:

 

And here's a featurette on the whole Conjuring Universe, featuring a cameo appearance by Father Guffey at about 13:28 ...

 

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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