Having essentially built itself around the “based on a true story” hook, the Conjuring universe of films have been served well by a selling point that’s either something you buy into or simply accept as neat marketing.
Whilst there’s no denying that Ed and Lorraine Warren did exist and built a name for themselves as paranormal investigators, whether or not their famed cases were as terrifyingly intricate as the films have detailed is another matter entirely. Whatever the case though, they make for entertaining viewing.
Seemingly (and hopefully) closing the chapter on these series of films, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is selling itself as the Warrens’ darkest case yet. Considering the type of exorcisms and demonic possessions they have faced prior that’s a sizeable statement, and though the early scenes of Michael Chaves‘ film suggest promise – the contorting body of a possessed 8-year-old alludes to a feature with a much darker mentality than its predecessors – it ultimately can’t hold the weight of its story as it dwindles into ludicrous predictability.
Said 8-year-old is David Glatzel (Julian Hillard) who, in 1981, was at the centre of an exorcism overseen by the Warrens (Patrick Wilson as Ed and Vera Farmiga as Lorraine). It’s a wild sequence that plays on the imagery we’ve come to expect from cinematic exorcisms, and by the time all is said and done, Ed is hospitalised from a heart attack and David’s sister’s kindly boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), has seen the demonic spirit overtake his body after exiting young David’s.
Arne’s possession results in a slew of violently-laced sequences and leads the film to suggest it’ll adopt a more courtroom-based temperament as the Warrens look to evoke the reasoning of demonic possession as the influence behind Arne’s sudden murderous mentality. This idea is one that had The Devil Made Me Do It followed through on could have truly reinvigorated the series. Instead, we are treated to a cycle of jump scares and ghostly sequences that fail to add anything extra to the Conjuring canon.
James Wan, who helmed the first two Conjuring films, has stepped down for this entrant – though he still earns story and production credit – and his replacement, Chaves, whose first foray into feature-length filmmaking was the poorly received Conjuring offshoot The Curse of the Weeping Woman, opts to alter any of the shadowy suspense Wan so masterfully crafted with an emphasised action personality, practically re-tooling Ed and Lorraine as a pair of rookie detectives in the process. There was a way to transform the expected tropes of these films, but shifting Ed and Lorraine in such a manner was not it.
Though it falls on cheap scares and adheres to no continuity regarding the first two films, The Devil Made Me Do It at least has a kinetic enough personality to guarantee you’ll maintain interest – even if, at times, you aren’t entirely sure what’s going on. When it executes scare sequences successfully – a bathroom, a water bed, and a morgue all prove viable settings for quality frights – there’s the promise of a horror film worthy of our investment, but, for the most part, this is more doltish than daunting.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is screening in Australian theatres from June 3rd, 2021. It will be released simultaneously in American theatres and digitally on HBO Max from June 4th, 2021.