Film Review – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) reunites us with paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) as they once again tackle a case of supernatural evil descending upon unsuspecting victims. This is the third entry into the series but the eighth overall film in the “The Conjuring Universe” (which also includes the Annabelle films). The Conjuring (2013) was a strong starting point, introducing us to the Warrens and a “real life” case of demonic possession. However, now that we are this far into it, the franchise is showing its age. The novelty has worn off – the formula has become stale.
Whether the Warrens were trying to help people rid themselves of bad spirits or were con artists taking advantage of them is beside the point. The fact that they were real people and offered pictures and audio recordings of their findings did add an extra layer of creepiness narratively. In fact, the most convincing bits of all The Conjuring films are the end credits, where actors and locations are juxtaposed with pictures of their real-life counterparts. That approach is once again revisited with The Devil Made Me Do It, but this time it doesn’t have quite the same effect. The sense of revelation is no longer there.
Granted, the story this time around is based on fact as well. In 1981 Connecticut, Arne Cheyenne Johnson was arrested for killing a man. During the trial he claimed innocence, stating that it was demonic possession that forced him to commit the act. This would be the first recorded case in U.S. history where possession was used as a defense. In the opening scene of the film, we learn that Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) sacrificed himself when his girlfriend’s younger brother (Julian Hilliard) was being tortured by a spirit during an exorcism. The spirit transferred itself into Johnson and apparently tricked him into the murder sometime afterward.
You would think from that point, the story would revolve around Johnson and his trial, but that would be incorrect. Enter the Warrens, who were present during the exorcism and have now been called upon to help prove Johnson’s innocence. Director Michael Chaves (with screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick) takes us through the Warrens’ investigation like a procedural. Because this is the latest entry in a long running series, we don’t get much introduction to the Warrens. This may not be the best place for newcomers to start, as the production assumes we are already acquainted with these characters. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Conjuring film if there weren’t sequences of ghostly happenings and flash jump scares. We get plenty of those, even if some of them don’t make a whole bunch of sense.
The Devil Made Me Do It is not a terrible horror flick, but it’s also a forgettable one. It kind of just chugs along, going through the motions without ever really driving home a sense of urgency. In fact, Johnson’s trial soon becomes an afterthought, as the Warrens come upon another case to solve. What they find is meant to run parallel with Johnson’s arc, but from an outsiders’ perspective it operates to inject some creative license without disrupting the real story. What fills up that extra space is your routine horror stuff, with twists and turns that can be seen long before they arrive and a climax that feels generic and artificial.
How about the scares? Whether or not the horror is strong enough to cause fright depends on the viewer. For those that haven’t watched many horror films, this might startle you. For those that have seen at least a handful of them, there isn’t much here that will send chills down your spine. The reason James Wan’s direction was so effective in the first film was that he had the patience to really let the tension build. He was not afraid to let the camera linger on a still shot for long stretches, causing the anticipation to build. Chaves’ direction is more mechanical and straight to the point. In one scene taking place in a morgue, Ed and Lorraine are terrorized by a…let’s call it an “evil force.” Instead of building up the suspense to a fever pitch, Chaves rushes the action, revealing the “force” too early. He cloaks it in shadow and then pushes it out in full view before the dread settles in. The result is a scare scene that plays comedically.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It does have its upsides. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga once again deliver strong, dedicated performances. They’ve been with these characters for almost a decade, and now fill them in like well fitted gloves. It’s too bad the story isn’t as good as they are. By the looks of things, they’re going to be with Ed and Lorraine for a good long while, as future installments have already been announced and with plenty of remaining Warren files to dig into. Let’s just hope that this is a steppingstone to better things and not a standard for future sequels to live up (or down) to.