A few Shocktobers ago, I was particularly taken with the first Conjuring movie, enough that I eventually sought out the sequel, despite not being someone who seeks out horror sequels very frequently. So I was happy to catch up with the Warrens again, even if I’m still very behind on catching up with the larger Conjuring universe that has developed over the past decade. While The Devil Made Me Do It isn’t a complete revitalization of the series or anything (though it does pivot slightly away from ghost stories), it still leaves me curious to check out whatever Annabelle and that Nun are up to, perhaps against my better judgment.
The Devil Made Me Do It begins with a familiar sight: Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) trapped inside a house with a family struggling to fight off a supernatural force. This time, it’s an eight-year-old boy who has become violent after being possessed by the devil. As the Warrens try to exorcise the demon with the help of a priest, the boy instead transfers the possession to his older brother Arne (Ruairi O’Connor). When Ed witnesses this, he has a heart attack that leaves him reeling for the rest of the movie, which of course is an easier thing to believe happening to the real-life Ed Warren, but less so to the eternally youthful Patrick Wilson.
About a month later, Arne is feeling some weird demonic rumblings within him, and ends up murdering his landlord. Arne is then arrested and the Warrens convince his lawyer to make Arne’s defense that his murder was a result of demonic possession, making it the first case of its kind in American history. While Arne is wrestling with his (literal) demons in jail, the Warrens try to piece together why possessions of these types have been happening in the general New England area, and trace it back to this demonic totem that uses a goat skull that has appeared at the scene of other Satanic murders. This leads them to seek out a priest (played by underrated character actor John Noble) who had a daughter who has been showing up in Lorraine’s visions, that had an affinity for the occult and in the visions seems hellbent on killing the Warrens.
The biggest difference The Conjuring 3 and its previous installments (other than the absence of ghosts) is that it takes on a bit more of a detective story bent, which kinda works and kinda doesn’t. It causes the film to feel a little less formulaic, and does a convincing job of proving that you could throw the Warrens into various kinds of paranormal stories without losing the appeal of this series, aided by the star power of Wilson and Fermiga. But at the same time, the different threads they try to pull together sometimes feel a bit disconnected and don’t really coalesce in that satisfying of a way.
One distinct difference between this movie and the previous Conjuring movies is that it wasn’t directed by James Wan, who instead passed the reigns over to Michael Chaves, who had previously directed the Wan-produced The Curse of La Llorona. Something I’ve noticed about Wan’s strengths as a director in the previous Conjuring movies (and his Fast & Furious entry) is his ability to heighten things to an absurd degree. I wouldn’t say The Devil Made Me Do It does that quite as effectively, but also, the movie doesn’t feel like that much of a step down for the series, as it still gives you a satisfying amount of scares and chaotic moments throughout, the stand-out being the exorcism scene that opens the movie.
Also, just in terms of capturing the distinct vibe of earlier Conjuring movies, Chaves does a more than serviceable job. These movies tend to look about as good as any horror movies out there, offering this period-piece sheen despite the fact that buying any of the events with a certain level of believability is always a stretch. There’s this nice mix of old school and new school horror elements that you get in the Conjuring movies, as their use of Victorian houses and two main characters who dress like they’re stuck in an older time give them this slightly gothic vibe, and yet the plotting and set-up of the scares feels distinctly modern.
Ultimately, the things that transpire are so over-the-top that I tend to regard the Warrens as pure movie characters rather than products of biography, sort of like recurring main characters in a series of mystery novels. So even if these movies get slightly less intriguing with each installment, I’m still willing to see what they tackle in the upcoming The Conjuring: Last Rites. And if it kinda sucks, well, I’ll just say the devil made me watch it.