Written by: Matt Patti | June 3rd, 2021
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Michael Chaves, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
As a horror buff, I was pleasantly surprised with director James Wan’s 2013 The Conjuring, along with its sequel, 2016’s The Conjuring 2, which I enjoyed even more. Both films offer intense scares, terrific scenes of slow-building suspense, and characters that the audience can connect to and care about. Perhaps the single-most important thing that sets apart the Conjuring films from other horror flicks, though, is the Warrens. The films are based on the true-case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, and the audience is just as invested in the Warrens (if not more so) than the family who is being haunted in each film. Though both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are both fantastic horror films that are among my top favorites of all time, they both follow a similar, basic formula: a family begins to experience strange events in their home that increasingly get worse until they call upon the Warrens, who come to live with the family for a bit and help them fight back against the paranormal entity. However, the third film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, is quite different and strays from this framework.
In a recent interview, James Wan admits that while filming The Conjuring 2, he thought ahead to the third film and realized he would like it to be a bit different. Instead of the typical haunted-house environment, Wan wanted to get the Warrens out of the house and into more of an investigative role in a paranormal mystery. He does just this in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, directed by Michael Chaves (with Wan in a producing role). In the film, based on the very real “Demon Murder Trial” in Brookfield, Connecticut, in 1981, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor, Teen Spirit), a young man who invites a demon into himself to save the soul of his girlfriend’s little brother, stabs and kills his boss in a state of disorientation sprung about by said demon. The shocking murder rocks the small town of Brookfield, which at that time hadn’t seen a murder in over 100 years. Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson, Aquaman) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga, The Front Runner) are called upon to help Arne plead innocence by way of demonic possession, a claim which further shocks not only Brookfield but much of the world. Investigating the circumstances that lead to Arne’s possession, the Warrens find themselves diving deep into dark, sinister places to find the truth.
As always, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga give their all in their roles as Ed and Lorraine. They are by far the best part of the film, and keep it afloat as much as they can. Lorraine, specifically, gets many moments to shine, throughout, and we closely examine her psychic abilities in some unique, intriguing ways. Once again, the Warrens give us relatable characters to root for against the forces of evil. Unfortunately, though, we do not get to see much of Arne outside of Act I of the film, and therefore do not get to form an emotional connection to him as much as we do with the Warrens. The plot is compelling enough, with many twists and turns that the viewer does not see coming and some fascinating discoveries. However, the plot becomes convoluted and many things don’t quite make sense.
I had fears going in to this about how a Conjuring film would work as more of a detective mystery than a haunted-house movie, and unfortunately those fears were realized in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Not only does the story have some faults and the film as a whole feel rushed, but my biggest disappointment is in the horror department. It does not feel like a horror movie; it feels like a true-crime drama, only with horror elements. The film certainly has its attempt at scares, but to little avail. The absence of Wan’s direction in the horror sequences is very noticeable. The long, drawn out, suspenseful sequences of the first two films are nowhere to be found here. Also, unlike in the first two films where each scare is earned and genuinely frightening, this third installment sinks to the levels of involving false scares: those cheap jump scares that lower-quality horror films feature that include rats scurrying by, random loud noises that are part of the environment, and anything that makes the audience jump but isn’t actually representative of what is the main horror material of the film.
There is some entertainment to be had in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. The trial and investigation of Arne Johnson is a thought-provoking one and it is quite satisfying to follow the Warrens around as they discover clues. The Warrens carry the film with all their might, but even they can’t save it entirely, thanks to some confusing plot points, important questions that never get answered, rushed sequences, and a lack of genuine fright. Overall, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a disappointing sequel, but is better than most of the separate spin-offs of the Conjuring universe. I do believe there is some enjoyment to be found, though, in seeing the Warrens out on a different type of adventure. I find it interesting that this film is not titled “The Conjuring 3.” and my theory is that perhaps the producers knew that since it was a different style of movie than the others, it works best as a separate Ed and Lorraine story rather than a true Conjuring horror film. If this were the case, I would completely agree.