The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
The Demonic Case That Shocked America
When filmmaker James Wan introduced the world to The Conjuring back in 2013, nobody would have predicted it’d be the start of a hugely successful franchise for Warner Bros., who’ve been able to churn out these spooky big box-office earners at such a low cost. Demonic dolls, creepy nuns, and even a Latin American weeping woman have featured in the Conjuring-verse, which, to date, has spanned seven films. However, it’s always been the affinity between husband-and-wife Christian paranormal investigating team Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) — who’ve starred in two Conjuring chapters — that’s made this series so enduring. Fortunately, filmmaker Michael Chaves, who replaces Wan for this third entry, recognizes this and puts the Warrens’ relationship front and center of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. And while it’s evident that Chaves hasn’t got the know-how to craft Wan-type scares and intricate set pieces, he, at least, steers the series into uncharted territory — the occult — which makes this third Conjuring installment distinctly different from its predecessors.
Exploring another ‘real life’ case from the Warrens’ files, this time the murder of Alan Bono, The Devil Made Me Do It kicks off with a visceral opener that pays homage to 1973’s The Exorcist, even mimicking its most iconic shot. It’s the summer of 1981, and the Warrens have been called by the Glatzel family to their home in Brookfield, Connecticut, to help their young boy, David (Julian Hilliard), who appears to have been possessed by an evil entity. The kid twists and turns, contorting his body in unnatural ways; it’s clear that something wicked has taken over him. Hence, Ed and priest Father Gordon (Steve Coulter) attempt to perform an exorcism. Alas, during the ceremony, the spirit slyly moves into his older sister’s boyfriend, Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), who’s there to aid the family. Ed witnesses the switch but has a heart attack, falls unconscious, and is then rushed to hospital.
While Ed’s comatose, things appear to have settled down for the Glatzels. Arne and his girlfriend Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), who are about to be engaged, return to their tiny apartment located above a kennel where Debbie works. Arne, though, starts to feel unwell and begins seeing gnarly visions, going pallid, and becoming very sweaty. He eventually murders Debbie’s landlord and boss Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins) by stabbing him several times under the influence of a satanic force. Once Ed wakes and the Warrens learn that Arne has been arrested and faces the death penalty, they return to Brookfield to help argue his case. Ed and Lorraine believe that Arne was being controlled by something sinister when he committed the murder and start an investigation into using ‘demonic possession’ as a defense in court, the first people ever to do so in an American murder trial. But, while Ed and Lorraine know that demons and devils are irrefutably real (or at least in the world that’s presented here), they must find enough evidence to convince others of this truth.
In the opening moments of the movie, it’s stated that this was one of the toughest cases of the Warrens’ career, and writers David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Orphan (2009), and James Wan, Saw (2004), take every opportunity to show us its impact. Ed suffers physically (he’s in a wheelchair and is rendered helpless for part of the film). At the same time, medium/ clairvoyant Lorraine is hit with nightmarish and deadly visions (she constantly sees images of a devilish witch’s alter). With Ed virtually unable to aid his wife, Lorraine becomes more vulnerable, and Ed is forced to sit back and let her do the heavy lifting. There’s a sequence where Lorraine puts herself at the scene of a similar murder in the Danvers, Massachusetts woods, that’s quite effective, and another nasty moment at the world’s ickiest funeral home. With that said, The Devil Made Me Do It is more of an investigative inquiry as opposed to a ‘haunted house’ story — it’s mystery and misdirection over monsters — our heroes eventually realizing that whatever took hold of Arne isn’t your typical type of demonic spirit.
Yet, it’s our investment in both Ed and Lorraine that makes this venture worthwhile. As expected, leads Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga continue to do wonderful work as the famed demonologists, who believe in one another just as much as they believe in ghosts, their connection a vital component of the film and the series’ overall success. Here, we learn a little more about the Warrens’ past; we see their meet-cute, along with their first kiss inside a gazebo during a dreamy rainstorm (Mitchell Hoog and Megan Ashley Brown portray a young Ed and Lorraine, respectively). Granted, it’s moments like Ed singing ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ to his beloved in Wan’s Conjuring 2 that truly got me caring, but they’re continually shown as being supportive and loving here, and I’m already caught up in their bond.
Director Michael Chaves, who helmed 2019’s so-so The Curse of la Llorona, shows considerable flair when it comes to the jumps, jolts, and the general creep factor, even if he’s still leaps and bounds away from crafting anything as frightening or as iconic as Wan’s excellent ‘Hide and Seek’ sequence from the first Conjuring or the Nun shadow scene in its follow-up. Besides the movie’s opening exorcism, Chaves gets the skin crawling with a freaky flashback involving the young David and a wicked waterbed that’s rather unnerving. He is assisted by a glossy, atmospheric production, chiefly the moody, era-specific production design by Jennifer Spence, Lights Out (2016), who dials up the horror with ominous shots of prison infirmary rooms and hellish occultist lairs, and the first-class lensing by Michael Burgess, Annabelle Comes Home (2019). And, oh, bonus points to Chaves for using Eddie Money’s ‘Baby Hold On’ in a bravura one-take at the start of the movie.
While Wilson and Farmiga are clearly the film’s drawcard, they’re aided by some great support players. Ruairi O’Connor, Teen Spirit (2018), is credible as the murder suspect at the center of the story, O’Connor making Arne very easy to sympathize with and root for despite being somewhat underdeveloped. Likewise, Sarah Catherine Hook, who’s primarily worked in television, does okay as Arne’s supportive girlfriend, Debbie. John Noble, Fringe (2008-13), is solid as Kastner, a former priest that the Warrens turn to who’s previously dealt with an evil cult, whilst Eugenie Bondurant, Fear of Rain (2021), delivers an unsettling performance as the film’s chief antagonist.
On the whole, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It might be a couple of notches below Wan’s superb first two installments, but nonetheless still succeeds as another worthy entry into the Conjuring-verse. Wilson and Farmiga remain as charismatic as ever as the Warrens, while Chaves and his team do enough to differentiate their movie from the others in the series. Heck, at the very least, The Devil Made Me Do It gives us an excuse to revisit the entire Conjuring trilogy in these uncertain times, as the Warrens’ open-mindedness, hopefulness, and love has never felt so important.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)