I unapologetically love The Conjuring universe films — all eight of them. And even when a standalone film seems to be a little off, like 2018’s The Nun, we could always count on the core Conjuring films to offer scares and story to further build the world of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. But with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, that streak comes to an end. That’s not to say that the third Conjuring film is bad; it just isn’t very scary, trading tense moments for exposition, as the film centers more on the Warrens and their bond than the previous films.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is again based on a true story, this time the 1981 murder and ensuing criminal case of Arne Johnson, whose defense was that he was possessed when he stabbed his landlord 22 times, killing him. Of course, since this is a Conjuring film, certain aspects are embellished for Hollywood, and here, the introduction of a cultist who invited a demon into our world, and the Warrens battling said cultist takes center stage over Johnson and his infamous court case.
The film opens with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) trying to help the Glatzel family save their 8-year-old son, David (Julian Hilliard), who is possessed. David’s sister, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) and her boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) are present for the demonic festivities and when the demon fully takes over David’s body, Arne demands the demon take him instead, setting off the events that became famous 40 years ago.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It puts more emphasis on the Warrens, with Ed’s bad heart, and Lorraine’s “gift” of being able to see things psychically. The investigation leads the duo all over New England as Arne sits in the lightest security prison ever, waiting for his trial. This gives the script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick time to develop the love and bond between the Warrens, as the audience learns more about them in this chapter than any of the previous films, to the detriment of the scares the series is known for.
Director Michael Chaves (Curse of La Llorona) knows how to do this stuff. Llorona was a fun creepfest on par with the core Conjuring films, but for some reason, here the scares stay in the dark. I’m not sure I ever once felt uncomfortable, as any of the particularly creepy scenes were spoiled in the trailers. This doesn’t mean that The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is not worth our time; if you are a fan of the universe built in these films, and of the Warrens as played by Wilson and Farmiga, this film delivers.
And it’s those performances that drive The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Whether you believe in what Ed and Lorraine were selling at the time or not, their cases make for great horror film fodder, and Wilson and Farmiga serve as the near-perfect hosts to escort the audience through these creepy misadventures. Their relationship drives these movies, and this one in particular, as Ed’s weakened heart hangs over the proceedings like Damocles’ sword, putting the onus on the investigation on Lorraine, and Farmiga carries the film for most of the two-hour run time.
I could delve into the issues I had with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, including the nameless antagonist (Eugenie Bondurant) whose motivations are never explained, and her backstory (though the performance by the always great John Noble was a treat) is a little nonsensical, but in the end, this film is about Ed and Lorraine Warren and their love for one another.
The real Lorraine Warren died in 2019, and this is the first Conjuring film (Annabelle Comes Home not withstanding) since her death, and that could play a part in the more emotionally tinged narrative than a scary one. I’m okay with a “breather” chapter in their story as long as I know more of these films are coming, because this shared universe is a fun and scary answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that Disney is milking the hell out of.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a fine chapter in the story of the Warrens, it just isn’t a very scary one. The previous two films offered so much more, as each film introduced a new element (the Annabelle doll in the first film; the evil nun in the second), and even that was missing here. All good stories need exposition, and this series is one long story — and this film serves as the relationship builder. I hope the series continues, and I hope it can remember what makes it so compelling in the next chapters, as the characters are fine, but it’s the scares that brings people in. And after a crazy year in the real world, I’m ready to be scared again.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is rated R and is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max now.
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