After four years since the announcement of a third Conjuring film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is finally being released next month on June 4th. Director Michael Chaves has been patiently waiting for this moment. While working on The Curse of La Llorona, Chaves was chosen by The Conjuring 1 & 2 director and executive producer James Wan to spearhead the third installment of The Conjuring films. Since finishing production in the summer of 2019, the film was set to release sometime in 2020, but with the global pandemic, The Conjuring 3 was placed on hold.
“I’ve been on this for three years,” Chaves told The Nerds of Color and a select group of reporters at a screening room on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. “They hired me before I was even finished with La Llorona. I was like, ‘don’t you guys want to see the end of it?’ And they were like, ‘no’. James was really fired up about it. So, I’ve been on this for three years. It has been quite a journey.”
Chaves was excited to have reporters in-person, who were all following strict COVID protocol with a COVID compliant officer standing by, at the lot to experience the first 11 minutes of the film. Chaves debated on which footage to share with the group, but really liked the first 11 minutes because he felt it immediately felt “intentionally [like] a different Conjuring movie.” He was not wrong. The first 11 minutes already had demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) in the middle of an exorcism on 11-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). After taking over for the fallen Father Gordon (Steve Coulter), who was knocked out during the exorcism, Ed was viciously attacked by the demon. Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), boyfriend to David’s sister, then called out to the demon to take him instead. You could imagine how well that went.
“I really love the way the movie opens,” says Chaves. “This is intentionally a different Conjuring movie. This is intentionally a kind of a step in a different direction. And it takes the Warrens on a different journey. So I think that the opening really kind of shows how serious we are about that.”
The Conjuring 3, now named The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, isn’t set in a home where the demon takes control of a child and everything takes place there. Instead, the film takes a different direction with the demon transferred inside adult Arne Johnson. As shown in the trailer, Arne is found wandering the road with an officer finding him covered in blood. We come to find out that Arne has murdered his landlord and claimed that he was possessed at the time of the murder. The murder makes headlines as the first case to ever try to claim demonic possession in its defense.
“It’s a really dark case,” Chaves explains. “When I first got the script, I was thrilled. It’s The Conjuring 3! I’m such a Conjuring fan. I was also nervous, because if you look at the other Warren cases, there’s no real victims. You can’t actually point to someone who lost their life. So, I think with this, there’s always the marketing spin, ‘this is the darkest Conjuring case ever,’ but I think in all honesty, this really is. You are talking about a real murder and a real victim. So going into it, even though I was really excited to deliver as a fan that same Conjuring experience, I think it also needed to be throttled with the reality of it.”
The real case of Arne Johnson is particularly disturbing, as told by multiple eyewitnesses who were there during the murder, including David’s sister Debbie and Arne’s sister Wanda. They claimed that Arne and the landlord were being held back from fighting each other. Arne then growled like an animal with a flash of light blinding Debbie and Wanda and then finding their landlord with four or five deep wounds, including one that extended from the stomach to the base of the heart. Arne then vanished into the woods in a trance-like state. After the media frenzy surrounding the case, there were many documentaries and Hollywood retellings of the the murder.
Writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who also co-wrote The Conjuring 2 with Wan, did extensive research on the case, including bringing the actual Arne Johnson and Debbie Glatzel-Johnson onto the WB lot. Johnson and Glatzel married during his imprisonment and remained together until her death recently from cancer. Chaves was fascinated with their love story.
“They told their story and it was really extraordinary,” says Chaves. “I think these are stories of faith. As I was trying to navigate [the story, I thought], how do you tell this [story]? How do you weave the truth? How do you tell a story that speaks to the values of The Conjuring, which is not only ruthlessly scary, but also [having] a tremendous amount of heart? They’re these stories of faith. And, ultimately, after hearing their interview, and the more I dug into it, the faith isn’t just like the faith in God, but the faith you put in each other and the faith that you put in the person you choose to love… They were together their whole life. And, I think that experience must bond you. It’s also something with her kind of testament of faith in sticking with him and her believing in him.”
Don’t be fooled by the Johnsons’ love story and the courtroom scenes in the trailer. This is still a Conjuring movie and it’s all about the demonic possessions.
“This is definitely not a courtroom drama,” Chaves laughs. “The courtroom scenes, even though there’s a couple in the trailer, are less than a minute of screen time. [The] very core of the story is the investigation. It is the Warrens’ journey to get to the bottom of this and what the origins of it [are].”
Chaves and Wan discussed how they wanted to approach this movie and agreed they wanted it to be similar to one of their favorite films, Se7en. Chaves says Wan basically said, ‘let’s do Se7en for The Conjuring Universe.’
“Even though it’s like the Warrens’ version of Se7en, not the Brad Pitt version,” Chaves explains. “It is the kind of the idea of an investigation — a supernatural investigation — where we kind of take the Warrens [and] bring them into the world. One of the things that hasn’t been touched on in the other movies, going into the ‘80s, they basically had a reputation, being both famous and infamous.”
In the ‘80s, the Warrens worked with several police departments on many missing persons cases. So much so, the FBI and the Department of Justice issued a guidebook on how to work with psychics.
“It was really a thing in the ‘80s,” says Chaves. “And, they worked with a detective on this and that’s one of the threads of the story. Let’s take them into the world and see them in a situation that we’ve never seen them [in] before.”
Chaves describes this film as the Most Warren-Centric film. Chaves attributes it to the actors playing the Warrens. After playing the infamous couple in four other films, Wilson and Farmiga know their characters so well and embody the spirit of the Warrens. This is why Chaves decided to show a failed exorcism in the beginning of the film to point out a moment for the Warrens when things don’t work out for them.
“It kind of goes back to the roots,” Chaves revealed. “Ultimately, it’s the story of the two of them… This is a film with real consequences. This is a film with real victims. A story with real victims. To treat it as if every story will have a happy ending, as if the Warrens always get the demons, even though it’s a wonderful idea, things don’t always work out that way.”
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It opens in theaters and on HBO Max on June 3.