The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Review

Remember those Brady Bunch episodes when they went to Hawaii and Bobby found the evil tiki that ruined part of their vacation? Similar happenings occur in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It to the Warren bunch – our happily married demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). It involves a satanic totem that wreaks even more havoc than Greg wiping out while surfing or Alice throwing her back out during a hula lesson. The latest Conjuring franchise pic delves deeper into the occult than previous entries and it is again based loosely on a true story.

This centers on the 1981 case of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), who was the first American to claim demonic possession as a defense during trial. As we learn in the pretty effective opening sequence, his curse was passed like a hot potato from 8-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). That little boy is exorcised by the Warrens and church officials in a body twisting procedure, but his malady is transferred to his sister’s boyfriend. That results in Arne returning home from work and his dogs are barking. His feet are fine. Arne works in a boarding kennel and those pups know something is off with him. The rest of Connecticut figures it out shortly after when he brutally stabs his boss.

Ed and Lorraine are naturally sympathetic to Arne’s forthcoming legal proceedings and seek to discover the backstory of how this came to be. Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities unveils a tale of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Ed is hampered by heart problems. In fact, he experiences more ticker palpitations than you might as a viewer.

In 2013, the original Conjuring emerged as one of the finest horror pics in recent years. None of the official sequels or spinoffs have come too close to matching it and that holds. Michael Chaves takes over directorial duties from James Wan. Like the first two, this is well-made and doesn’t suffer from the cheap knockoff vibe that, say, Annabelle had. To be fair, even the Annabelle follow-ups improved. The last time we saw the Warrens was in 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home and I would say it had more pure entertainment value than this.

That’s not to say Devil is bad. It’s just another so-so example of creaking sound effects and jump scares that intermittently possesses a genuine scare. This even gets a little gooey towards the conclusion with its love conquers all theme. You can’t blame the filmmakers. Ed and Lorraine, in real life apparently and certainly on screen, have been through a lot. It’s too bad they weren’t in Hawaii back in the seventies. Maybe Alice would have had a far more pleasant hula lesson.

**1/2 (out of four)

Annabelle Comes Home Review

The first Annabelle spinoff in 2014 felt like a cheap and quick money grab after the success of The Conjuring the year before and I’d say it stands as the worst experience in this cinematic universe. Three years later, Annabelle: Creation managed to slightly improve on its predecessor as it told the 1950s set backstory of the demonic doll. Some horror aficionados felt it was a significant improvement, but I wouldn’t go that far. Annabelle Comes Home, which takes place about a year after the events of The Conjuring, accomplishes what very few trilogies can. I think this is the best of the trio and about on the level with The Conjuring 2 as far as effectiveness. That means it’s nowhere near the quality of the film that kicked the whole shebang off, but it’s well-crafted and feels like some effort got put into it.

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back and they basically bookend this latest haunting. The real focus is their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) as she deals with that supremely creepy looking title doll. Her parents have recently acquired Annabelle and locked her in a case that explicitly warns others to keep it closed. When the Warrens go off somewhere investigating what will probably be a Conjuring flick someday, Judy is left in the care of high school babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) joins the party and is curious if there are evil spirits lurking in the Warren household. She’s also desperate to connect with her recently deceased father.

As we know, Daniela has found the right house to do just that. Her actions unlock a whole lotta spirited occurrences which come with the franchise’s now well-known and precise sound effects editing. Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote the first two Annabelle‘s and The Nun (he also penned both It pics). This walks a sometimes pleasurable line between the terrorized babysitter premise while being steeped in Conjuring lore. We briefly see several other spirits awakened and that includes a dog who’s a bad boy and a board game with a mind of its own.

Yet Annabelle Comes Home never turns into Ouija or Cujo. Most of the focus is on Annabelle. And despite her still scary appearance, no Conjuring sequel/spinoff has quite nailed the key objective: being consistently scary itself. With the exception of Annabelle’s first 2014 starring role, they look good and sound really good. They’re also far cries from what started it all.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Box Office Prediction

America’s favorite paranormal investigating peeps The Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) are back in theaters and on HBO Max next week in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. This is the second sequel to the 2013 horror hit and the eighth overall entry in the Conjuring Universe. Michael Chaves (who made the previous series effort The Curse of la Llorona) takes over directorial duties from James Wan, who produces and shares a story credit. Costars include Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, and Julian Hilliard.

Originally scheduled for a September 2020 premiere before its COVID delay, Devil will attempt to reach an opening weekend gross commensurate with its predecessors. That could be a helluva task. Both pics with Conjuring in the title made just over $40 million for their starts. The first two Annabelle spin-offs took in over $30 million out of the gate. Another spin-off, The Nun, actually holds the series record with $53 million. Yet the past two flicks couldn’t match up. The third Annabelle made just over $20 million while the aforementioned la Llorona hit $26 million.

Those dwindling earnings could continue here. I’m a bit surprised that Warner Bros is releasing this just one week after A Quiet Place Part II, which should still be making loud noises at multiplexes. Furthermore, some fans with Max subscriptions will opt to view it in the comfort of their home. This franchise, on the other hand, has often shown an ability to over perform (The Nun hitting $50 million plus was not anticipated). Yet for the reasons described, I believe Devil could end up having the lowest domestic debut of the whole bunch.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It opening weekend prediction: $19.8 million

For my Spirit Untamed prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/27/spirit-untamed-box-office-prediction/

Midway Box Office Prediction

Known for his mega budget disaster flicks such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, director Roland Emmerich tries his hand at a World War II epic next weekend with Midway. Budgeted at $75 million (pretty low considering the reported $165 million price tag for his 2016 dud sequel Independence Day: Resurgence), the cast includes Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, and Woody Harrelson.

I do not expect this to be Emmerich’s Saving Private Ryan or Dunkirk. Those WWII efforts had critical acclaim and Oscar buzz. This does not. There will be competition for the adult and action crowd with the debut of Doctor Sleep and second frame for Terminator: Dark Fate.

IMAX elevated pricing could help a bit, but I doubt it. My suspicion is that Midway posts middling to poor numbers in the low teens for an inauspicious start.

Midway opening weekend prediction: $13 million

For my Doctor Sleep prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/29/doctor-sleep-box-office-prediction/

For my Last Christmas prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/30/last-christmas-box-office-prediction/

For my Playing with Fire prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/31/playing-with-fire-box-office-prediction/

The Nun Movie Review

We aren’t exactly blessed with a new horror classic in The Nun, the latest entry in the seemingly endless possibilities for spinoffs in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. It does, however, manage to rise above the Annabelle creations before it with some style points and an occasional identity of its own. While both Annabelle and its sequel often felt like unnecessary cash grabs, I’ll give director Corin Hardy a bit of credit for creating something a little different. Let’s call it maybe a B- for trying.

The title character here first appeared in The Conjuring 2. She’s a demonic nun possessed by evil spirit Valak. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) had to put up with her sister acts of violence in that picture. This prequel and spin-off (preoff?… spinquel??) takes it back two decades earlier to the 1950s in Romania. A nun has committed suicide in a monastery after making the acquaintance of Valak and the Vatican enlists Father Burke (Demian Bechir) to look into it. He’s paired up with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who’s still in the novitiate (or training) stage before taking her vows.

Once they reach the scene of the death, Father and Sister are subject to lots of shadowy lurking, visions of terror, and charming local Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who provides a couple moments of genuine comic relief. That’s not something often found in this particular Universe and it’s welcome because these pics aren’t worth taking seriously.

2013’s The Conjuring was a very entertaining and scary genre exercise. The direct sequel and the offshoots haven’t come close to its power. And The Nun is nowhere near as entertaining or scary. Yet I wouldn’t classify this one as lazy. The monastery setting creates a sometimes effective claustrophobic feel. We know this franchise is all about jump scares and they’re in bountiful supply. I’ll give Taissa Farmiga props for her ability to act as terrified as her big sister Vera in the main series flicks. Calling this the best spin-off thus far isn’t praise of the highest power, but I’ll confess to it holding my interest better than the doll.

**1/2 (out of four)

Annabelle Comes Home Box Office Prediction

2019 has seen a number of franchises stumble hard with their sequels and reboots. Yet Warner Bros has one of the sturdiest series in recent memory with the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. Next week brings the third edition of the Annabelle entries and I don’t see fatigue among horror fans happening here.

Annabelle Comes Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who penned both predecessors and last fall’s spin-off The Nun. Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman star and this time Conjuring leads Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga join the doll party.

As mentioned, this has been a mighty profitable franchise for its studio. After five pictures, the lowest opening belongs to Annabelle: Creation at $35 million two summers ago. However, it legged out better than 2014’s Annabelle ($102 million vs. $84 million). Any thought of the series dwindling was dispelled last fall when The Nun took in $53 million for the best premiere of all.

What might give this Annabelle the lowest debut yet is a matter of logistics. This one opens on Wednesday and that will certainly eat into its traditional weekend haul. I still foresee a high 20s Friday to Sunday gross and high 40s when factoring in the extra two days.

Annabelle Comes Home opening weekend prediction: $27.4 million (Friday to Sunday); $38 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Yesterday prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/21/yesterday-box-office-prediction/

Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Aquaman Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/18/18): Update here as I’m increasing my $74.3 million estimate up to $77.3 million.

We don’t have Vincent Chase from TV’s “Entourage” starring in it as portrayed on that show years ago with James Cameron directing. Yet DC Comics hero Aquaman finally gets his stand-alone experience next weekend. Instead it’s Jason Momoa reprising his role as the waterlogged warrior after first seeing him in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. James Wan, who made the Conjuring entries and Furious 7, directs. The supporting cast includes Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Nicole Kidman. In a bit of irony, Julie Andrews has a voice-over while Mary Poppins Returns serves as competition over the pre-Christmas frame.

Aquaman marks the sixth DC Extended Universe feature that began in 2013 with Man of Steel. The lowest grossing opener of the series was Justice League in November of last year with $93 million. All others (Steel, BvS, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman) took in over $100 million. Forecasts and expectations aren’t as high here, but Warner Bros is certainly hoping for a sizable hit. The film opened in China last weekend to robust results. Reviews are fairly solid with a current Tomato rating of 78%.

No previous DC Universe production has premiered in the crowded holiday month of December. Direct competition comes from both Poppins (family crowd) and Bumblebee (action crowd). With Disney’s famous nanny getting a two-day jump on Wednesday, Aquaman appears in good position to grab the #1 spot.

My feeling is that it will do so with a gross in the mid 70s.

Aquaman opening weekend prediction: $77.3 million

For my Mary Poppins Returns prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/10/mary-poppins-returns-box-office-prediction/

For my Bumblebee prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/11/bumblebee-box-office-prediction/

For my Second Act prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/14/second-act-box-office-prediction/

For my Welcome to Marwen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/15/welcome-to-marwen-box-office-prediction/

Young Adult and Tully Movie Review

Two films this decade have combined the talents of director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody, and star Charlize Theron. Both have given Theron, who won a deserved Oscar 15 years ago for Monster another opportunity to step out of action heroine mode. That’s where she’s resided a lot recently and Reitman’s camera and Cody’s words have given her a chance to stretch.

Young Adult from 2011 is more rough around the edges, more uncomfortable, and ultimately more memorable. Theron is Mavis, who spends a little time ghost writing YA novels and the rest of her life in an aimless haze of alcohol and unreachable fantasy. She grew up in the small town of Mercury, Minnesota and moved on up to Minneapolis. When Mavis receives an email announcing the arrival of her high school sweetheart’s baby, it triggers a road trip. Her heart is set on getting Buddy (Patrick Wilson) back. Mavis seems blissfully (and often drunkenly) oblivious that his Buddy’s wife (Elizabeth Reaser) is a pretty cool mom, special ed instructor, and part-time band drummer.

Patton Oswalt’s Matt becomes Mavis’s drinking buddy and earpiece to her plans. Matt was badly assaulted in school in a sort of hate crime. They form a sad and occasionally sweet partnership accentuated by two fine performers playing them.

The title of this picture doesn’t only apply to the genre of novels that Mavis authors. She may be 37, but her mind is stuck in two decades old reversal. You may hear her bragging about leaving her small town roots, but she’s never fully escaped those prom queen days. Cody deserves kudos for making the central character a complicated one. You’ll cringe at her and sympathize with her moments later.

Tully from the spring of this year finds Theron in a different mode. She’s Marlo, a frazzled mother of two youngsters (one of whom has special needs). She’s extremely pregnant with a third when we meet her. While Mavis was the small town gal who made it out, Marlo made it to New York City in her youth and returned to the burbs. She finds her existence mundane with her little ones and slightly dull hubby (Ron Livingston). Her well off brother offers to foot the bill for a night nanny with the hope of restoring some balance to her long days and sleep deprived evenings.

This is when the free-spirited Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives. She doesn’t just help out with the new infant, but provides a sounding board to Marlo’s issues. Theron’s character here is more sympathetic while still maintaining some of the quirks (a word that gets some humorous play here) that we expect from Cody’s writing.

Theron’s award winning turn in Monster found her shedding her outward beauty. You find that in both projects here to varying degrees. Tully is more deliberate in its pacing and an act three revelation doesn’t feel as profound as it wants to be. It’s still worth your time for Theron’s work and some incisive commentary about the joys and sorrows of parenthood.

Young Adult is a bit more brave in its script and overall execution. You may not have any clue how Mavis will end up in life when the credits roll, but the time spent with her is even more rewarding on a cinematic level.

Young Adult

***1/2 (out of four)

Tully

*** (out of four)

The Commuter Movie Review

Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his aging action star Liam Neeson collaborate for the fourth time with The Commuter. If you remember their 2014 effort NonStop quite vividly, good for you because I had forgotten much of it. That pic put Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long flight in which he was forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. Four years later, this one puts Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long train ride in which he is forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. If that makes you think The Commuter doesn’t exactly aim high, you’d be correct.

The trick with these movies is whether we can successfully put our brains aside and just enjoy the junk food genre offerings. This time around, the director and star don’t make it very easy for us. Neeson is Michael, an ex NYC cop turned life insurance agent for the last decade. He’s 60 (as he reminds us a few times) with a wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and son about to enter college. It’s tough for the family man to make ends meet and that’s thrown into chaos when he’s unceremoniously fired. Each day he makes a long commute home and on the day of his unexpected dismissal, more surprises follow. He’s approached on the train by Joanna (Vera Farmiga) and she offers an opportunity. There’s $100,000 for Michael if he can identify and place a GPS tracker on a passenger who goes by Prynne. Farmiga’s Conjuring hubby Patrick Wilson turns up as Michael’s old partner.

This is all tied to a murder investigation and Prynne is a witness. Joanna’s benefactors want Prynne eliminated and Michael is their ticket to make that happen. All this leads to Michael having to make a series of moral decisions while intermittently kicking an appropriate amount of baddie butt. We also are introduced to the train’s other passengers – some of whom are given perfunctory subplots while we await Prynne’s grand reveal.

The Commuter, quite frankly, is totally ludicrous and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The same could certainly be said of Unknown (the first Collet-Serra/Neeson joint) or NonStop. Yet I found both to be slightly more entertaining than this. The screenplay (which somehow took three people to write it) does too little to engage us with its silly plot and a couple of decently choreographed action sequences aren’t enough to save it. Neeson gives it his earnest and occasionally intense all. Bless his heart for not coasting as the story does.

** (out of four)