When The Conjuring first scared audiences in 2013, little did we know how impactful the film would be on the future of the horror movie landscape. Up to that point, director James Wan had already successfully directed two hits of the genre: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). With The Conjuring, he also became the mastermind of what has been called the Marvel Cinematic Universe of horror movies. The Conjuring is somewhat campy yet capitalizes on its ability to get under your skin. The film gradually builds up to its exorcism climax and has flashes of dark imagery. Additionally, the film does well in establishing and investing viewers in the two characters we’d follow in future installments: Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. When it comes to mainstream studio horror pictures, it doesn’t get much better than The Conjuring.
Like its predecessors, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is an entertaining thrill ride. Like James Wan’s direction in the past, the film is selective with its jump scares; they are neither overbearing or missing. Each scare is carefully built up to and earned rather than manufactured through cheap gimmicks or sudden loud noises. Wilson and Farmiga continue to flourish in their roles as the Warrens, and their onscreen chemistry only grows stronger with each chapter in The Conjuring universe; they truly carry these movies and elevate The Conjuring films over their spin-off counterparts.
The opening scene of the film depicts the exorcism of 11-year-old David Glatzel, based on an authentic exorcism that occurred in 1980 (a recording from the actual exorcism plays over the end credits). The sequence conducts itself in a manner reminiscent of the finale of the original The Conjuring and arguably marks the peak of this film. Body convolution and a demonic voice, furniture being thrown around, and a close call that leaves Ed Warren gasping for air all culminate into an intense introduction.
To end David’s exorcism, Arne Johnson, David’s older sister’s boyfriend, invites the demon possessing David to take him instead. Ed is the only person to witness this, and after being left in a comatose state, is unable to warn anyone. When Ed finally regains consciousness and reveals to Lorraine what Arne had done, it is too late. Arne tragically stabs his landlord Bruno 22 times. With the Warrens’ help, Arne becomes part of the first American murder trial where demonic possession is used as a defense. There are many skeptics to Arne’s claim, and if the Warrens are unsuccessful in convincing the jury, Arne will be put to death. What starts as an investigation into David’s original possession, becomes a pursuit of the satanic as the Warrens seek to remove a curse placed by a witch’s totem.
From the moment following David’s exorcism onward, the absence of James Wan as director is noticeable. In Wan’s place is Michael Chaves, director of the mediocre The Curse of La Llorona (2019) – a film loosely tied to The Conjuring franchise. The plot is messy and goes increasingly all over the place. The dialogue is half-baked. And the antagonist is forgettable when compared to Annabelle or Valak (Sorry Warner Bros., you’re not getting a spinoff movie out of this one).
While the first two The Conjuring movies were in a single primary setting, a haunted house, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It features several settings including a pastor’s house, a forest, the Warren’s house, abandoned tunnels, a morgue, a courtroom, etc. There was a certain novelty in the way the first two The Conjuring movies kept things simple with a single setting; it gave them more time to develop the victims which in turn made us care more about them. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is broken up into a series of wild goose chases across Brookfield, Connecticut and no subplot receives enough time to leave a lasting impression. The film should feel chaotic because a demon is tormenting our protagonists, not because the story cannot make up its mind what direction it wants to go next. Don’t get me started on the film’s theme of the power of love, portrayed in cheesy flashbacks to a younger Ed and Lorraine. “She thinks our love is our weakness, but it’s not.” Am I watching The Conjuringor a Hallmark movie?
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It should satisfy fans of the franchise. There are a fair number of scares and hardly a dull moment. But it’s certainly a step down from its James Wan-directed predecessors.