The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, 2021.
Directed by Michael Chaves.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Charlene Amoia, Steve Coulter, Megan Ashley Brown, Sterling Jerins, Andrea Andrade, Shannon Kook, Mitchell Hoog, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Keith Arthur Bolden, Davis Osborne, Paul Wilson, Mark Rowe, and Stella Doyle.
The Warrens investigate a murder that may be linked to demonic possession.
Dear Warner Bros., the devil made me write this negative review.
On a serious note, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It essentially goes out of its way to avoid the thematic story beats James Wan (the first two excellent entries, with the second installment easily one of the greatest horror sequels ever made) presumably entrusted to director Michael Chaves (previously responsible for The Conjuring universe stinker The Curse of la Llorona, but certainly capable of working up some sinister atmosphere as seen in his music video direction for Billie Eilish’s Bury a Friend) were ignored in favor of a tasteless spin on real tragedy.
The points here are clear that love is a strength and that demonic possession should, at the very least, be entertained in a court of law when applicable. Michael Chaves (alongside screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick) sets these aspects up as critical themes (a flashback to how paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren met and fell in love, and the early flirting with the possibility of a courtroom drama setting as they try to prove demonic interference in a grisly murder) only to lose focus. He seems oblivious to where the real intriguing story here lies.
It’s doubly frustrating considering the solid start The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It gets off to, paying homage to The Exorcist (in terms of execution and one iconic shot replication) with violence and self-sacrifice. On July 18, 1981, Ed and Lorraine Warren (once again made likable and respectable by strong performances from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) assisted an exorcism of young David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), making for an effectively terrorizing sequence that contains a moment so physically painful I may as well have been hurting watching. It’s stressful, chaotic, dangerous, and unlike the rest of the movie, chilling. Although David’s older family friend Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) is able to break the possession, everyone comes away worse for wear. That especially applies to Ed, who suffers a heart attack during the exorcism.
Naturally, the demon is not gone. After some time passes, Arne begins to experience hallucinations in the presence of his likely fiancé Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook) and the kennel owner they work for (Ronnie Gene Blevins). These delusions begin to intensify as Arne loses his sense of self (complete with clever distortion of a popular song) and stabs him 22 times. He comes to, walking down the road while soaked in blood, unsure but horrified of what has happened, all as Debbie remains insistent that David was not behind his own eyes that day.
At this point, the case itself is far more engaging than the Warrens dealing with aging and health problems. As an outsider or insider to whatever actually happened, the real story for this cinematic dramatization comes from the relationship between the court and God. There’s even a terrific line acknowledging that everyone swears to God before delivering a testimony, whereas pleading demonic possession is, while rightfully silly, also not taken seriously. The film shouldn’t be about whether audiences believe or don’t believe or convincing them to believe. Since its inception as a genre, horror has scared people and occasionally left such strong impressions capable of changing how the consumer perceives something about the world. For two movies, The Conjuring has taken Ed and Lorraine Warren, actual paranormal investigators with sketchy backgrounds, and given them depth while convincing us to believe in support their cause, at least in the context of dramatized movies. There are other directions to take.
With that said, the fact that The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It teases the prospect of doing something unique and refreshing (courtroom drama centered on demonic presences, something I’m confident James Wan would have either knocked out of the park or integrated more into the actual narrative here should he have returned to direct) only to devolve into a series of jump scares and supernatural communication while investigating for clues is nonetheless frustrating. The story doesn’t even seem interested in asking whether or not Arne was crazy or studying him as a person. It’s all executed with a mindset of bigger and bombastic is better, which is actually the antithesis for horror.
Instead of breaking out audiotapes of the actual Glatzel house visits for the end credits, why not incorporate versions of them into the story during the court trial itself? Why not make a movie that shows lawyers and judges cracking and beginning to accept the possibility of demonic possession? The answer seems to be that ignoring subtlety, characterization, and themes in favor of outlandish attempts at scares are more palatable to a mainstream audience, never minding how much it all dilutes the impact of the tragedy at the center of the story.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It can’t even be bothered to make good on exploring love, something the second film did beautifully. The deep affection between Arne and Debbie is meant to be another vessel for doing so, except they don’t have much screen time, especially together, to make any of this feel meaningful when the characters hammer home the point of love not being a weakness. The intriguing element that this demon has passed between David and Arne gives them a fascinating dialogue exchange about the effects of possession. However, it’s another avenue for compelling storytelling that winds up as an afterthought. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a series of wasted opportunities consistently focusing on the wrong plot beats. While it’s assuredly entertaining in the moment, it doesn’t take long or much thought before that assessment is reached.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com