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The Conjuring Universe hasn’t been that consistent. The two Conjuring-titled films and Annabelle: Creation worked well with both critics and audiences, but the rest of the movies, despite being commercial successes, have received mixed or downright negative responses. Some (Annabelle Comes Home) were middling diversions, while others (Annabelle, The Nun) were tedious and predictable bores. For such a successful franchise, its batting average is all over the place.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It reminds one of 2016’s Jason Bourne; a sequel languished in development hell purely because the filmmakers didn’t want to make it without finding the perfect story. And the reaction is the same: they should have kept looking.
Maybe it’s because The Conjuring 2 tackled one some of the most famous modern horror stories with Amityville at the start and the Enfield poltergeist consuming the main plot. It’s hard to follow on from that. The Devil Made Me Do It unfortunately stretches itself too far to portray a new case for Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) that’s as terrifying or important.
This third Conjuring movie is a dramatisation of the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (played here by Ruairi O’Connor), who was convicted of murder in 1981 and pled non-guilty on the grounds of demonic possession. The real-life Warrens were originally brought in to help with an exorcism of a young boy, whose demonic spirit apparently leapt from his body and entered Arne, who then killed his landlord months later. As with both Conjuring movies before, the film then goes on and adds in some plentiful dramatic license to make things scarier and more conventionally structured.
The Warrens investigate a possible Satanic conspiracy surrounding Arne Johnson and this leads to personal conflict with Lorraine’s supernatural senses and Ed’s health struggles. The Conjuring movies have always worked on the strengths of Wilson and Farmiga’s performances and chemistry with each other. We always feel that they love each other more than anything in the world, and it always helps us get invested in their fight against demons.
Even though the movie goes out of its way to try and split Ed and Lorraine against each other in clunky ways, their character development is not the major problem with this second sequel. It’s the direction.
James Wan is an eccentric filmmaker, and he has an unparalleled level of creativity when it comes to horror (on par with Romero and Craven). Saw, Insidious and both of his Conjuring films explore new ideas and concepts for the genre that always feel like he and occasional collaborator Leigh Whannell are really trying something different with each turn.
The Devil Made Me Do It isn’t directed by James Wan but by The Curse of La Llorona director Michael Chaves. I’m sure Chaves is a nice guy, but it baffles me that he was chosen to direct the third entry of the catalyst for this franchise when his only major credit is Curse which might be far and away the worst film in the Conjuring Universe.
Gary Dauberman (writer of all three Annabelle movies and director of Comes Home) or Corin Hardy (director of The Nun) would’ve have been more interesting choices, as even Hardy has a palpable energy about his horror filmmaking that reminds one of Wan and Whannell (he makes numerous appearances on the Empire Podcast and seems like a delight).
Chaves’ direction is just unexceptional. None of the scares in the film were of anywhere near the kind of creativity or energy that its two predecessors delivered with impressive skill. This third film felt like some random spin-off movie in the universe instead of an important and necessary next step in the journey of Ed and Lorraine’s characters.
Michael Burgess’ (Curse of La Llorona, Annabelle Comes Home) cinematography is functional and acceptable, but is a far-cry from John R. Leonetti (The Conjuring) and Don Burgess’ (The Conjuring 2) work, and Joseph Bishara delivers his typical ultra-creepy score made of inhuman noises and scattered string sections.
If all of the people involved loved their work and enjoyed making this movie, fantastic. I was in a packed screening with most people gasping and nervously laughing at all the spooky moments, so that’s a great experience. I’m a difficult person to scare by nature of watching hundreds of horror films and picking up on virtually all of their conventions. If something does end up scaring me, then it’s for a very good reason. I wasn’t scared by any scene or idea in this horror movie.
In virtually every way, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is an inferior film to its two major predecessors, but that’s because both of those movie are quite good. The Devil Made Me Do It isn’t an incompetently made movie, and has a few neat moments, but perhaps I just ask for a little more than the bare-minimum in horror. It feels too long at 112 minutes, the scares can predicted well before they happen, and it feels like a sequel made for the sake of creating a trilogy. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It could’ve been much more, but it’ll make money and audiences will get a sharp hit of adrenaline they’ll quickly forget. Moving on.
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