The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) Review

A REFRESHING RETURN TO

PARANORMAL BASICS


 

Back in 2013, the scares of the paranormal world of possession and demonic conduits were in full swing with the release of The Conjuring. Directed by James Wan, the movie, which starred Patrick Wilson and Farmiga, the followed the narrative of paranormal investigators (husband and wife) duo Ed and Lorraine Warren, who come to aid a family that are experiencing increasingly disturbing supernatural events at their dwelling in Rhode Island in 1971. The movie was praised by fans and critics alike, with The Conjuring collecting almost $320 million at the box office against its $20 million production budget. From there, a franchise was born, with The Conjuring expanding into a horror universe of various villainous possessions and ghoulish beings that were setup in other films, with a 2016 sequel titled The Conjuring 2 (with Wan, Wilson, and Farmiga) being a prime example as well as spin-offs features endeavors, including the Annabelle trilogy (2014-2019), 2018’s The Nun, and 2019’s The Curse of La Llorona. Now, with the franchise continuing to grow, Warner Bros. and director Michael Chaves return to The Conjuring Universe for another round of demonic mischief and otherworldly possessions horrors with the release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Does this third “main” entry in the Conjuring franchise hold fast and give strong ghoulish cinematic tale or does it struggle to find its footing amongst its predecessors?

THE STORY


The year is 1981 and Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are working on a case of an exorcism involving a young child named David Glatzel (Julian Hillard), with the demonic possession troubling his older sister, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), and her boyfriend, Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Conner). During the hellish ceremony to extract the demon from David, the spirt makes the leap from the young boy and into Arne, while Ed suffers a heart attack from the upheaval of the exorcism, putting him in the hospital as Lorraine worries about her husband’s health. Soon Arne becomes a conduit vessel for the demonic spirt, committing a murder, which puts the young adult on trial, and facing a death sentence for a crime he has no memory of committing. Sensing that there is a dark and maleficent force, Ed and Lorraine push Arne’s lawyer to plead not guilty, under the suspicions of demonic possession there by launching their own personal investigation into the matter. However, much like their previous works, the Warrens soon come to find out that there is something more sinister and terrifying than what was first realized, leading them back into danger and the unknown, while a young man’s life hangs in the balance.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Much like what I’ve said previous when I do write reviews for horror movies…. I’m not the biggest fan of them. I’m not saying that the horror film genre is bad or anything, but really isn’t my particular “cup of tea” if you know what I mean. That being said, I have been pleasantly surprised by a few horror movies that have caught my attention and likeability in cinematic entertainment…. case in point The Conjuring Universe. While I thought that the first movie was good, I personally loved The Conjuring 2 and considered it to be my favorite of the whole Conjuring franchise. I love the idea of the Nun (i.e., Valek) as the main antagonist and how the terrifying possession of Janet Hodgson was worked for a cinematic treatment. Gave me chills and some great intrigued throughout the movie. Plus, the creepy painting of the Nun is beautifully haunting. Overall, I really liked The Conjuring 2, which was probably why I liked The Conjuring spin-off film…The Nun. It wasn’t super scary, but it had some great atmospheric motifs and nuances throughout as well as the return of Valek as the nightmarish Nun. The other Conjuring spin-offs movies such as the Annabelle movies and The Curse of Llorona were okay-ish endeavors that had some good ideas, but weren’t as strong as the main films in the series, which involved that involve the Warrens. Perhaps the strength also lies with director James Wan’s helming the project; finding the two Conjuring features to be strongest entries of the entire horror franchise.

This, of course, brings me back to talking about The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the ninth installment of The Conjuring Universe and the third film that focuses the attention on Ed and Lorraine’s paranormal investigative saga. Following the success of The Conjuring 2, I was definitely very much eager to see where the next film (i.e., The Conjuring 3) would take the Warrens’ paranormal adventures on and what new demonic specter that they would be encountering. However, that would have to wait as the various spin-off films of The Conjuring Universe took more precedent over the Warrens’ next chapter. Yes, the pair were featured in 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home, but only bookended the film. Still, the idea of the Conjuring 3 materializing in the future loomed large in my mind. Then it was announced that the third film (now titled The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) was going to be released in September of 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was delayed until the following year, with third Conjuring feature now set to be released on June 2021. Time went by and no movie trailer for the film was released until a few months ago; highlighting what lies in story for the Warrens on their latest adventure. So, I was excited to see this movie when it got released, which was to be released in both in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously. I decided to check out the movie on HBO Max in the comforts of my own home. However, while I did see it during its opening weekend release, my busy work schedule got the best of me, which delayed my review. Now, I finally have some free time and ready to share my “two cents” on what I thought of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it. While it wasn’t the strongest film of the main series, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It still provides plenty of supernatural entertainment of the paranormal variety; probing both he physical and psychological horrors to great effect. It’s not the best, but I still liked the movie….and I think many will agree with that.

While the previous two Conjuring films were directed by James Wan, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is directed by Michael Chaves, who previous directed the Conjuring spin-off movie The Curse of La Llorona. Given his affinity towards the ghoulish supernatural nightmares from his directorial feature length back catalogue as well as his somewhat attachment to this horror universe, Chaves seems like an ideal choice for shaping the latest entry in both Conjuring series as well as the new chapter in the Warrens saga of exorcisms and detective work. Perhaps the best thing that comes out of his project is the reframing of the narrative (not so much of the story of The Devil Made Me Do It, but as a focus on) is the returning of the Ed and Lorraine Warren; giving the feature the right amount of character-built moments and nuances for us (as the viewers) to care about these paranormal investigators. In Chaves’s hands, I think he actually does a great job in capturing both the Warrens and the cinematic world that the Conjuring is set in…. more so than what done with La Llorona. In this case, Chaves certainly does succeed in this third main outing as the sort of “flagship” storyline of the main Conjuring franchise. Looking beyond the haunting imagery and supernatural possession, Chaves does make the movie “return to the basics” with the relationship of the Warrens, providing plenty of character filled moments that showcase their strengths and weaknesses with enough punctuating scenes to make us (the viewers) care about their journey into the unknown / unseeing horrors that await them.

That’s not to say that Chaves removes the horror elements from the endeavor from the movie, with The Devil Made Me Do It showcasing plenty of horror-filled sequences and / or events that are finely showcased throughout the story. While there are a few mechanics that are bit underwhelming (more on that below), Chaves has a keen eye of closes up, which translate well for haunting marriage of exciting and disturbing illusions of the paranormal world. More to the point, Chaves looks for what actual works in a horror movie, given the us (moviegoers) what they are looking for in a horror movie, but staying true to the higher sophistication of the Conjuring film namesake, without diminishing the story being told nor the main characters therein. There are plenty of pitfalls and traps of which the film could’ve easily travel down for a more traditional horror movie (dull, weak, and stagnant), but Chaves manages to rise above that plight for an entertaining outing for the Warrens’ latest case.

There is a more underlining effort in translating the more psychological horror rather than the physical ones that Chaves implements in the movie, which results in a more thought-provoking endeavor rather than just a simplistic / traditional horror feature. Elements are a bit more meticulous and the ghoulish suspense never overtakes the story / character development….as so many horror movies often do. Lastly, I think that Chaves does a good job in keeping the feature moving at a brisk pace by pushing events in the narrative forward in a timely manner. Even with the film’s runtime being a several minutes shy of two hours (one hour and fifty-two minutes), Chaves never makes The Devil Made Me Do It feel bloated as he (as a director) objectively takes the story and translate it into a effective horror feature. Overall, I think that Chaves does a good job in crafting this latest Conjuring movie and does a better job helming The Devil Made Me Do It rather than The Curse of La Llorona. Just my opinion.

In the presentation category, The Devil Made Me Do It is consistently solid feature that plays on its visual aesthetics and horror nuances in a very well manner. The feature’s background and setting is well-represented and feels very grounded, despite the ghoulish supernatural events that lurk around the various corners of the film. The truth of the matter is that the movie’s world has a believable state, with the timeframe of the early 80s feeling organic and lived in rather than the colorful, snappy pop-culture references of classic 80s flick (clothing, music, catchphrases, etc.). Thus, the film itself feels organic and lifelike and I liked that. This makes the feature’s various “behind the scenes” members like Jennifer Spence (production design), Lisa Son (set decorations), and Leah Butler (costume designs) for their efforts in making the film’s world solid within a background setting aesthetic. Additionally, the cinematography work by Michael Burgess also quite good in throughout good; lathering up some of the more dramatic sequences via camera trickery for the scarer / horror induced moments. Plus, while the visual effect shots don’t exact break new ground, what’s presented definitely works and aids in some of the more supernatural ways effectively. Lastly, the film’s score, which was done by Joseph Bishara, is also rather good by hitting all the right notes (musically speaking) for intense thrills and dramatic horror burst dirges.

There are a few problems that I had with The Devil Made Me Do It that does distract a few times from the feature’s entertainment. It’s not as disastrous as that sounds, but it does hold the feature back from being my favorite Conjuring entry in the franchise. For starters, the movie itself just doesn’t quite fully measure up to the two previous Conjuring movies. I kind of hard to say where the fault lies, but perhaps it is because of Chaves at the helm of the project and not James Wan, who seems a much more skilled director when shaping a horror film like the two previous Conjuring endeavors. That’s not to say that Chaves does a great job in executing The Devil Made Me Do It (as mentioned above), but I just think that Wan has a better understand of producing some more genuine thrills, scares, and better directing of such a horror movie like the two previous installments. Thus, The Devil Made Me Do It does feel a slight step down, especially compared to the past two Conjuring movies, but only slightly as this third outing is still good. Just as shame of what could’ve been if Wan decided to direct The Devil Made Me Do It.

The Conjuring movies have always played “fast and loose” within playing the concept ideas of “based on the true story” motif; garnishing more thrills and scares with the more supernatural elements and not so much on the “factual” term of events that play. This is quite clear with The Devil Made Me Do It when the feature of sidesteps a lot of main events that surround Arne, including his murder Bruno and the trail that surrounds him out this grave situation. I’m not saying that the feature needed to devolve into a courtroom legal drama, but what’s presented seems more like an afterthought, with the feature’s script, which was penned by Wan as well as David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, shining a cinematic light more on the Warrens case into demonic possession than on the Arne’s plight. I sort of expected this, so it was a huge deal, but I kind of wished that the feature delved more into Arne’s circumstance.

Additionally, the movie misses several opportunities to take the feature to the somewhat “next level”. The Conjuring features have always been the “flagship” on this horror franchise, taking some truly genuine scares and supernatural thrills to new heights and new sequences to audiences to shock and surprised over. In The Devil Made Me Do It, the scares, while good and effective, never truly “push the envelope” in breaking new ground in the horror genre. Yes, there is plenty of possessions antics, unnatural ghoulish elements, and demonic worship, but nothing that was truly standpoint (new or original) from what has come before from a Conjuring movie. Also, there is a lot potential and unnecessary side parts to the feature’s story that neither comes to fully circle complete or just simply left somewhat dangling by the time the feature reaches its end credits. Thus, I think that the film needed to have a little bit more “oomph” in its overall execution in directing and story. There’s a lot of fascinating components that that the movie offers, but does quite follow through in its promises; rendering a few pieces of the film a bit moot or underwhelming.

The cast in The Devil Made Me Do It is rather good and definitely lends strength to some of the feature’s more positive points to examine, effective assembling a group of acting talents that are solid across the board in the movie…. regardless of screen time. As mentioned, part of the success of this movie would have to be the return focus back on the Warrens themselves; finding the center spotlight back on Ed and Lorraine Warren. This is most apparent with actor Patrick Wilson and actress Vera Farmiga returning to reprise their Conjuring roles as these two particular husband and wife paranormal super sleuths. Wilson, known for his roles in Aquaman, Watchmen, and The Phantom of the Opera, and Farmiga, known for her roles in The Departure, Up in the Air, and Bates Motel, are both very gifted character actors, with their past body of work demonstrating that notion. Their involvement in the Conjuring is one such example, with the pairing easily playing off one another in their husband-and-wife roles and of their paranormal partnership. Thus, it’s really a joy to see them together again in The Devil Made Me Do It, with the two acting talents easily sliding back into the roles of Ed and Lorraine; conveying the necessary fear and unease between themselves throughout their case. The movie punctures the character with several new beats such as frustration, health issues, and balancing their internal feelings surround this particular case of Arne’s murder and the supernatural possessions that they are trying to uncover. Together, both Wilson and Farmiga have great on-screen chemistry with each other, which easily translates into the likeable nature of their portrayals of Ed and Lorraine Warren. As a sidenote, young actress Sterling Jerins (World War Z and Daisy Winters) returns to reprise her role as the daughter of Ed and Lorraine, Judy Warren. Like the previous Conjuring features, she isn’t heavily featured much in the movie, her appearance in the film adds that continuity that I liked.

Of the supporting players in the movie, I would definitely have to say that actor John Noble (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Fringe) does a great job in this movie as Father Kastner, a former priest who is familiar knowledge of the demonic occult that the Warrens are looking into for Arne’s case. Noble is a seasoned actor and clearly shows that whenever he’s on-screen. The character of Father Kastner isn’t the most original character construct, Noble is still really good in the movie, especially how his voice sounds by adding that extra layer of gravitas and mystery whenever he speaks. Behind him, actor Ruairi O’Connor (The Spanish Princess and The Postcard Killings) makes for a sympathetic character found in his portrayal of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, the subject entry point that surrounds The Devil Made Me Do It. As I pointed out early, the movie does tend to lose a bit focus on Arne’s case and the whole trial aspect, so it does feel like a “missed opportunity” that the movie doesn’t see a lot of growth within the character. It’s clear what the movie wants to do with him, but it feels like there could’ve been more substance of his character in the film. Still, I think that O’Connor does a good job in the role by displaying the right amount of fear, anxiety, desperation to make Arne feel believable and concerned for his life in this paranormal investigation.

The rest of the cast consist of minor supporting players in the movie, including actor Julian Hilliard (WandaVision and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels) as David Glatzel, actress Sarah Catherine Hook (Monsterland and First Kill) as Debbie Glatzel, actor Ronnie Gene Blevins (Death in Texas and Dog) as Bruno Sauls, actor Steve Coulter (The Hunt and Watchmen) as Father Goodman, actor Vince Pisani (The Hunt and Irresistible) as Father Newman, and actress Ingrid Bisu (Toni Erdmann and The Nun) as Jessica Louise Strong. Naturally, some of these characters get more screen time than others, but that’s what goes with the territory of minor players. That being said, all of these acting talents are solid across the board.

FINAL THOUGHTS


To clear a young man’s name, Ed and Lorraine Warren journey to find the answers, which leads them through some ghoulish scares in the shadows, in the movie The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Director Michael Chaves’s latest film takes what Wan established on the first two films, with Chaves expanding upon the main thread line of the Conjuring universe with his own style and flair to the proceedings. While the feature does have a few missed opportunities and just not as quite as polish finesse as the previous two films, the movie itself is still very much a strong entry within this franchise series of paranormal spooks and demonic possession, especially thanks to Chaves’s direction, a good overall visual presentation, a brisk pacing, and great cast. Personally, I liked it. Yes, it wasn’t as good as the first two Conjuring movies (I still think that The Conjuring 2 is my favorite), but it comes very incredible close to its predecessors at being a solid (and very well-done) horror movie. Story was interesting, cinematography / presentation was slick, the horror parts were effective, and the cast was solid across the board, especially Wilson and Farmiga. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is quite a favorable “recommended” as I’m sure fans of the franchise and fans of horror movies will likely want to see this sequel installment. Like the previous Conjuring movies, the film’s ending wraps up the investigation that the Warrens are examining; prompting another go-around for possible future case to be set within the next chapter. I, for one, look forward to seeing a Conjuring 4 in the near future. For now, while the movie isn’t the strongest installment of the series, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is refreshing and entertaining horror film to get lost in; reconnecting with the Warrens with a “back to basics” formula that ultimately works in the feature’s story driven horror favor.

3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: June 4th, 2021
Reviewed On: September 7th, 2021

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It  112 minutes long and is rated R for terror, violence, and some disturbing images