[Review] The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) by Marcus Wilturner

With three films spanning nearly an entire decade, “The Conjuring” has become the new standard in recreating the classic fear and tension that revolutionized the institution of horror since its creation. Director and maestro James Wan brought intelligence, sophistication, and enigmatic storytelling back in true throwback fashion to the haunted house concept. And while the five spin-offs in “The Conjuring Universe” franchise have been hit, semi-hit, or extreme miss, they’ve nevertheless successfully expanded the universe in a spooky and fun way. Above all else, especially with the first two main films, Wan’s masterful camera work, attention to detail, and incomparable direction has proven to naysayers that horror can be as artistic in presentation as any other genre without sacrificing identity or entertainment value. Which is why many have claimed the first two films are masterpieces of the modern age.

Now, after five years of waiting as some spin-offs took their time to shine or fumble, Wan takes up a story and producing credit, allowing director Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) to take the reigns in the third Conjuring installment with “The Devil Made Me Do It“, another paranormal thrill-ride with rampant spills and visual grandiosity.

After a dangerous exorcism, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are in a race against time to save a young man on trial from execution after a demonic possession leads to a vicious murder. Things get even more complicated for the investigators when they discover that this entity is unlike any they’ve dealt with before, and something darker is revealed to be the original cause of the possession.

Much like the previous films, which are based on “true” supernatural incidences, this story is based on the 1981 murder trial of Arne Johnson, which is the first known court case in the United States where the defense attempted to prove Johnson’s innocence based on a claim of demonic possession. The trial itself was heavily documented, sparked media attention from around the country, and was later used as a catalyst for plenty of stories over the years. Now this horrible event is depicted for our viewing pleasure, with that “Based on a true story/events” moniker casual moviegoers and horrorhounds love or loathe so much. There’s considerable differences in this story’s execution that set it apart from its predecessors. Unfortunately those differences are for the better and the worse.

When it comes to its betterment, there’s a surprising amount of death in this entry. Previously, when we’ve seen deranged spirits, vengeful demons, and freaky apparitions, there’s been extremely little in actual deaths that’s befallen our characters. This time around we witness a few people meet their ends, which was a welcomed change in the proceedings as far as I’m concerned. Next up, the story doesn’t waste much time getting to the nitty gritty of the events in question. From the pulse-pounding opener to the fantastic and striking final act, the film never really ceases to make the most of its runtime even during the quieter moments. It’s definitely a white-knuckle romp that keeps its lively tone steadily going throughout.

Lastly, much like the previous films, this is supremely anchored by the performances of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren. Their strong showings as well as their spectacular chemistry has been the driving force of the duology and even the spin-offs simply because they were connected to them. That trend continues here as the couple haven’t lost a step or skipped a beat in their portrayals. I dare say, you could bring these two into another distinct horror film or franchise and I believe it’d work all the same. They’re that good. Unfortunately when it comes to switching directors and even the style of the story, it definitely has a few detriments to the film’s overall quality.

First off, this isn’t very scary. Even though scares are always subjective, these just aren’t as intense or even suspenseful. The issue I believe is they lack Wan’s naturalistic build-up, placement within the story, or creative camera shots and transitions. As a result, there’s no subsequent pay offs that knock your socks off or rattles the senses, and the core films are significantly known for that. That kind of claim isn’t completely true here. Which is pretty ironic considering the death count in this one. It’s all competent and efficient thrills but little to no chills. Almost like a reverse “Sinister” effect. Also fairly ironic.

Secondly, the story doesn’t highlight any of the other characters beyond the Warrens. In the first two films, Wan did a bang up job bringing the haunted, terrorized victims and their families into the limelight by spending a significant time with them, featuring plenty of scenes and sequences building upon their relationships and dire state of affairs. Here, not so much, which is a shame. Lastly, considering this film introduced judges, lawyers, and the justice system into the narrative, I was expecting to spend some time in the court room as well. But that didn’t happen either. You can attribute that to the film’s shorter runtime and Chaves assertiveness in keeping the ball rolling at all cost. Quite a few hugely wasted opportunities that would’ve kept the original themes going from the previous fares as well as adding more distinctness to this one.  Again, shame.

However despite those negatives, this sequel manages to be a worthwhile conclusion to the Conjuring saga without obstructing or damaging anything that’s come before. I’ve certainly seen FAR more ridiculous, repulsive, and repugnant third-parters in other trilogies and franchises. We all have and can definitely name a few off the top of our heads. While this would be a fitting end to the universe as a whole, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s more on the horizon. This is a lucrative saga after all and there’s plenty left in the “room of spin-offs” to draw from. As it stands, this entry moved swimmingly, featured another excellent turn from Farmiga and Wilson, and was a treat when it got things right. Sure, when it’s set next to James Wan’s golden standard it implicitly falters but on the horror front it remains a strongly thrilling and hugely exciting tale of demons, spirits, and the occult. Which isn’t too shabby when you consider how badly it COULD’VE been. The Devil’s certainly in the details.

Rating:

Review written by Marcus Wilturner

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