The Warrens return in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It to investigate the mysteries behind a chilling murder case – one that may be tied to a demonic possession. The resulting trial of Arne Johnson marks the first time in US history that a suspect would claim demonic possession as a defence, with the Warrens on their side to prove that fact.
This third entry in the Conjuring franchise marks a turning point in the series when it comes to the creatives behind the film. This is the first of the three films to not be directed by James Wan, as well as the first to not be written by the Hayes brothers. As much as I’d have loved the film to still be as great as the previous entries, it just doesn’t feel enough alike. The absence of James Wan and his trademark style of horror is quite evident. That being said, it is directed by Michael Chaves, who exhibited his ability to craft chilling horror in The Curse of La Llorona (2019). He does bring some of those talents to this film, as there are some moments of effective horror, but overall it just wasn’t that scary. I’ll give the film some credit for trying to do something different with the franchise this time around. It breaks some of the more formulaic traits of these ‘exorcism-type’ films and takes the story in a direction that I certainly did not see coming. So, when it comes to doing something creative… The Devil Made Me Do It achieves just that.
The only issue is, the direction they went in didn’t really work for me. It felt like a weird blending of a supernatural horror and a crime detective thriller – a pairing that may sound intriguing, but wasn’t always effective. Overall, the threat isn’t that sinister and, as a result, just not that scary. As I said, there are some moments where the horror is brilliantly effective. For instance, the first 10-15 minutes of this movie are draped in near-perfect examples of horror. It’s eerie, claustrophobic, chaotic and is everything I wanted to see from this sequel. From there, it loses that tension when it delves into the more investigative detective work, occasionally making things tense again in brief moments.
As I mentioned, the horror isn’t as effective or as prominent as I’d liked it to be, and that’s because of the direction the narrative goes in through the second and third acts. The larger narrative that’s being told is, at times, actually quite intriguing. The concept behind the trial of Arne Johnson is an interesting one, and trying to figure out who or what is behind the murder has its moments, but it doesn’t service the horror in any effective way. Rather, getting creative with the narrative and putting a spin on things detracts from the tension in much of the latter half of the film.
Despite the horror elements falling short of amazing and the narrative not being entirely engaging, one thing that remains as the most captivating element of this franchise is the presence of Ed and Lorraine Warren. These two characters have been so phenomenally well written, introduced and fleshed out over the course of the last two films that every single person goes into this rooting for them to achieve everything they set out to do. They are two of the most iconic characters in the entire horror genre. They are the gel that binds everything together, making even the most sub-par scenes engaging just due to their presence. The writing of these characters is great, but it’s the stellar performances from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga that really cement them as the GOATs of the genre. They completely embody these characters to the point where you wholly believe they are the real Ed and Lorraine Warren. Their dedication to the roles and their chemistry through every scene is entirely unbreakable and endlessly entertaining. I could watch the two of them simply talk about the Warren’s cases for three hours and be wholly engrossed in every word. Without them, this movie would be a shell, which is why so much credit goes to them for the movie being enjoyable throughout.
From the rest of the cast, the supporting performances from Steve Coulter (who reprises his role from the previous films) and John Noble both add a touch of class with some great acting in their limited scenes. Ruairi O’Connor puts in one hell of a performance to sell all of the various demonic possession sequences to the best of his ability. He doesn’t do much for the film in terms of his dialogue, but he certainly puts in a great physical performance – displaying the utter terror his character is enduring at all times. Besides those mentioned, no-one else really stands out – but it’s the Ed and Lorraine Warren show anyway.
In the end, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is still a solid horror film with some good scares and the occasional engaging moment in the narrative, but it is severely lacking in comparison to the films it follows. Overall, it’s not that scary. There’s are a couple of well-executed moments, but for the most part it lacks the growing sense of tension that was so well done in previous instalments. The shift in direction for the story and weaving in of a cat-and-mouse crime investigation felt like an odd choice for something so rooted in supernatural horror. Despite those gripes, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are the stars of the show – elevating every single one of their scenes and making this still an entertaining watch. If you’re a fan of horror, or don’t want to fall behind on this franchise, definitely still check this one out!