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Even though I’m a big fan of the Conjuring franchise, I was a bit skeptical going into the third installment, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. James Wan did a great job with the first two movies, but I wasn’t sure how the new director, Michael Chaves, would fare with this one. The Insidious series went down the drain after Wan vacated the director’s chair for the third entry, and Chaves’s only other movie, The Curse of La Llorona, was a big disappointment. I was worried this film would also be a letdown, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by it.
It starts off rather unconventionally, with an exorcism scene that features several (probably intentional) similarities to the granddaddy of them all, The Exorcist. For example, the possession victim in this one is also a child, and when the priest is unable to cast the demon out, one of the attendees, a young man named Arne Johnson, tells it to leave the kid and enter him instead. But best of all, before the ritual even begins, there’s a cool visual nod to the 1973 classic that I’m sure fans will really appreciate (but you’ll have to see the movie for yourself to find out what it is).
Then, some time after this, Arne commits murder under the influence of the demon, and when he’s tried for the crime, he pleads not guilty by reason of demonic possession. The Warrens take it upon themselves to find proof that Arne really was possessed, and the movie is all about the mystery behind this case.
The trailers gave the impression that The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It would be an Exorcism of Emily Rose-esque cross between a courtroom drama and a horror movie, and despite my doubts, I was looking forward to seeing the franchise go in that direction. I’m a big fan of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and I love it when filmmakers blend genres.
However, that’s not at all what we get. There are a couple of very brief courtroom scenes, but the film isn’t about the trial. Instead, it’s about the Warrens’ search for the source of all this trouble, and even though that’s not the exact genre mashup we were expecting, it’s still a big change for the franchise. Up until now, the entire Conjuring universe has pretty much just been traditional haunted house fare with a bit of possession thrown in, but The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It departs from that formula in a big way. Sure, it still has a few haunted house elements, but on the whole, it’s more of a supernatural mystery film.
And it totally works. While the movie has its fair share of flaws, this isn’t one of them. The mystery behind these possessions is intriguing, and the story slowly reveals its secrets at just the right pace. It makes you want to learn the truth behind these demonic attacks, so you can’t help but keep your eyes glued to the screen as you wait to find out more.
But that’s not even the best part of the movie. Hands down, the best thing about The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is Ed and Lorraine Warren and their chemistry together. If you loved these characters before, you’re going to love them here as well. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are as good as they’ve ever been in these roles, so just about every second they’re on screen is an absolute joy to watch. And since they’re the stars of the show, the focus is on them more often than not.
On the flip side, the other characters in this film aren’t nearly as interesting. Most of them feel more like plot points than real people, so the movie tends to drag a bit when it takes the focus off the Warrens. Thankfully though, it never does this long enough that you lose interest, so it’s not a fatal flaw. On a similar note, since the supporting characters are rather bland, most of the actors here don’t get much to do. Nobody in the movie is bad, but Wilson and Farmiga are the only ones who really get to flex their acting muscles.
However, there is one exception. John Noble plays Fr. Kastner, a retired priest who helps the Warrens a few times in the movie, and even though his part is very small, he commands your attention every time he’s on-screen. He exudes such authority that you believe every word he says, and you can’t take your eyes off him. I left the film wishing his role was bigger, but I really appreciated the little bit that we got of him.
Moving on to the scares, this is probably the weakest element of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. On the whole, they’re a mixed bag, and even the good ones aren’t nearly as effective as the scares in the first two Conjuring films. The best ones tend to involve Ed and Lorraine Warren, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. These are by far the two best characters in the movie, and scares are always more effective when they involve characters you care about.
All in all, I’d say that if you’re a fan of the Conjuring franchise, you’re probably going to like this film. The flawed scares and supporting characters keep it from being top-tier Conjuring, but it’s still a good time. You’ll enjoy seeing the Warrens on-screen once again, and the way this movie shakes up the series’ typical formula is a very welcome change of pace.
However, if you don’t like the other Conjuring films, I don’t think this one is going to turn you into a fan. If the Warrens weren’t enough for you before, they’re not going to be enough for you this time either, and the rest of the movie won’t be able to tip the scales to the positive side.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is available now in theaters and on HBO Max.