James Wan has built several successful horror franchises over the years. Beginning with Saw, then Insidious, and finally the Conjuring universe. His directing style balances in-your-face scares with subtle imagery and music to build the right amount of tension. I’ve continued to be impressed by his ability to subvert expectations and commit to a formula that almost always succeeds in terrifying the audience. Even when you know what is about to happen, the delivery still surprises you. After decades of horror movies and countless clichés being repeated, it’s refreshing to see filmmakers that can breathe new life into the genre. I was worried when James Wan didn’t return to direct the third installment in this franchise, but fortunately, his replacement is fully capable of taking on the Warrens.
In The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, directed by Michael Chaves, it is 1981, and Ed and Lorraine Warren are assisting in the investigation and trial of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man who murdered his employer. Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook) is Arne’s girlfriend. Her steadfast support of Arne’s innocence and their love for each other strengthens the Warren’s resolve to help him. The Warrens believe his actions were the work of demonic possession, but proving it in a court of law will be a bigger challenge than all the cases that came before. The validity of their work has always been in question, yet it hasn’t interfered in their pursuit of saving lives and banishing evil. Lorraine(Vera Farmiga) is burdened with the power to connect to the other side and see events that have transpired. Her gift can lead to clues that can uncover the truth in the real world. Meanwhile, Ed (Patrick Wilson) must contend with a recent medical setback that could make facing the darkness more difficult. The assistance of a former priest named Kastner (John Noble), could open new doors to not only the world of demonic possession but also demon worship. Facing the unknown of the spiritual realm is nothing new to them, but they are ill-prepared for this case and the dangerous elements awaiting them.
The film’s story is based on actual events and expands on the mysterious occurrences surrounding Arne and the Glatzel family. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not makes the journey more compelling knowing that real lives were involved and suffered a harrowing and tragic loss. I’ll grant you that it’s difficult to strike the right tone between making a successful horror film and not disrespecting the real-life victims. The Conjuring films have straddled that line fairly well because the Warrens take each case with the families in mind. The films at their core are about love persevering.
Ed and Lorraine are the heart of every Conjuring movie and this is no exception. It tethers our emotions to the film and makes us want to see them succeed. Everything else seems secondary to their story, but we are invested in it all and want to learn more because of their dedication. It’s a testament to the brilliant chemistry between Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Each film they have brought us closer to these characters.
The scares in this movie are decent and Michael Chaves does a nice job of weaving them throughout the film. When the truth about Arne’s condition unfolds, that is when the fear takes hold of us and starts to alter our expectations of what we are used to in these movies. I was impressed with some of the interesting methods the characters were attacked or attacked from within. Our eyes are always darting across the screen trying not to miss that subtle movement or change in lighting. There are scenes where our eyes are the character’s eyes and we’re not sure if the imagery we see is happening to them or just an illusion. The only truth is that our actions have consequences.
Joseph Bishara’s music is one of the consistent threads of the Conjuring world. He also worked on two of the Annabelle films and The Curse of la Llorona. That eerie vibe he provides complements the pulse-pounding moments, but his music also evokes empathy and compassion when necessary.
I do miss having children in peril. Children always make the horror experience more tangible and electric. You don’t get excited about their suffering, but you relish the adventure. This movie only has one small child to root for and he’s not the film’s main focus. Julian Hilliard is delightful in his scenes, however, and I’m glad we got to see as much we were given of his talent. The film follows the Warrens more than anything and that is not a bad thing. This film brings out their love story and even shows us glimpses of their romantic past. It’s another deviation from the usual formula built over eight movies in the Conjuring universe. Yes there is a case and yes there are supernatural monsters to contend with, but we get Ed and Lorraine front and center and that’s the best part of this movie.
The difficulty with sequels is the burden of matching the original or even surpassing it. Chaves made a great film and it stands on its own, but you do miss the craftsmanship of James Wan. Still, while I believe the original Conjuring is the best, and one of my all-time favorite horror films, this is better than The Conjuring 2. It’s a more concise story and isn’t overwhelmed with multiple villains that struggle to occupy the same spotlight. Strangely that concept works in Annabelle Comes Home, but there you go.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a worthy sequel in the franchise and a must-see in theaters. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga give solid performances. I loved the references to The Exorcist, The Howling, The Shining, and probably others I’ll need to catch on a second viewing. Michael Chaves, who also directed The Curse of la Llorona, does an excellent job here. Writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick has provided this world with new possibilities. The horror genre is not only alive, but it is also thriving and this year is going to be something special. Just make sure to sleep with one eye open.
About THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT
Synopsis: The Warrens investigate a murder that may be linked to a demonic possession.
Director: Michael Chaves
Writer: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble
Runtime: 1 Hour, 52 Minutes