‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ takes the franchise in a new direction as it trades a haunting for a lethal possession with limited success.
One of the most appealing aspects of The Conjuring franchise is the films are based on true stories. Ed and Lorraine Warren, the tales’ protagonists, were real-life paranormal investigators, and the movies’ narratives are extrapolated from actual cases on which they worked. Of course, pictures based on true stories and actual re-enactments shouldn’t be confused. While the films are based on documented paranormal happenings, the movies exaggerate events to make them more entertaining for audiences. This may never have been truer than in the series’ latest installment, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
In 1981, Ed and Lorraine (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) attended the exorcism of a young boy, David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). As the ceremony was on the brink of failure, David’s sister’s boyfriend, Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), invited the possessing demon into himself and it accepted. A few weeks later, Arne stabbed a man to death. At his trial, his defense claimed he was innocent because he was possessed by demonic forces at the time of the murder. With little time to spare, the Warrens try to gather evidence to support Arne’s defense and prove to the court he was not responsible for his actions. During their investigation, they find an occult link that may have affected more than just Arne and continues to threaten all of them as the perpetrator attempts to complete their ritual.
This narrative diverts from the true events pretty early on as the real-life judge rejected Johnson’s plea and he was eventually convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Consequently, the occult aspect of the film gradually becomes especially implausible, even for a story that’s rooted in the supernatural. The Warrens’ research uncovers a totem that they then link to other incidents of people acting out of character. This leads to Satan worship and the summoning of demons to do someone’s bidding, and possibly the ingredients to a sinister spell. Aided by a former priest (John Noble) who studied the occult, the couple try to track down the origin of the curse so they can put an end to it permanently.
The previous narratives in the series dealt with hauntings, while this movie tackles a brutal murder by means of possession. Yet, even though the paranormal occurrences surrounding a family or object were extraordinary, they are still easier to accept than much of the events in this picture. Though the core story is real, the majority of the film is a work of fiction that features far-fetched ideas about Satanism, witchcraft and demonic possession. Most of Arne’s episodes occur in a prison where there would’ve been multiple witnesses to this unbelievable phenomenon and yet he receives very little support outside of those already dedicated to saving his soul. Where the previous pictures were tethered to plausible supernatural events, this movie completely throws any connection to reality out the window, opting for extreme examples of dark magic and making it difficult to engage with the narrative in the same way. Had it been made outside of this franchise and presented as a straightforward work of fiction, it could have been viewed in a different light.
Even under these fantastic circumstances, Wilson and Farmiga stay true to their characters and continue to lead the franchise with their stalwart performances. O’Connor does well portraying a man beleaguered by an internal struggle for his soul, while Hilliard also turns in a convincing portrayal of a boy who’s experienced too much. Writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick is certainly well-versed in the horror genre, but his enthusiasm for it may have gotten the better of him and done a disservice to the franchise. Meanwhile, director Michael Chaves is coming off The Curse of la Llorona, and brings with him a solid sense of building an eerie atmosphere and allowing the film’s evil elements to disturb audiences directly.
Overall, this film will still rank better than The Nun in the series universe, but that’s not saying much.