When I first saw The Conjuring, my horror world was knocked off its axis. I had already been a fan of James Wan’s work through Saw, Dead Silence, and Insidious, but something about The Conjuring hit me on a much deeper level. I felt the same after seeing The Conjuring 2, so imagine my excitement when it was announced that there would be a third film in the franchise. However this time, the movie would be focusing on a true-crime story from the Warrens’ vault. With the third film coming out this Friday, the question that will be asked is does it live up to its predecessors? Ultimately, for this critic, THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT ended up being the film that has left me the most conflicted so far this year.
In THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, audiences learn about the chilling story of terror, murder, and unknown evil that shocked even experienced real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. One of the most sensational cases from their files, it starts with a fight for the soul of a young boy, then takes them beyond anything they’d ever seen before, to mark the first time in U.S. history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defense.
To start things off, THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT is based on the true story of Arne Johnson who murdered his landlord and used the defense of demonic possession. It’s a fascinating true crime story and one that I was excited to see enter into the Conjuring universe. However, instead of a focus on exploring Arne’s journey, the film instead pivots to the Warrens’ love story, as well as on Lorraine’s visions. And I get it. I do, but this is the third film featuring the Warrens. We don’t need to be consistently reminded that they have undying love towards one another.
Additionally, the film is very heavy-handed in terms of approaching the religious aspect, even more than what we’ve seen in previous films. This brings me to my next point: the crux of the movie. The film takes place in the early ’80s at the start of the Satanic Panic movement. How it ends up being portrayed in this movie is….. cliché and archaic, especially in 2021. Though I understand that the movie is a snapshot of the ’80s, the approach of Satanism in this film just didn’t land well. Additionally, there’s the villain, The Occultist (Eugenie Bondurant) who had the opportunity to be something vicious and terrifying yet she was insanely underutilized. Eugenie Bondurant is such a fantastic and unique actor who knows how to play a villain, and we barely have any time with her. The Occultist is one of the more interesting players in the film and it would have been beneficial to have explored her more.
I know I’m being very critical but have no fear. The film isn’t a total flop. Director Michael Chaves really has an eye for the visuals and is able to really elevate the more intense moments and heighten the anxiety and fear surrounding them. When he shines, he really shines, and not only is it seen in this film but you can also see it in his previous movie, The Curse of La Llorona. The issue that Chaves keeps running into is that his projects are all written horribly. Even so, there are two scenes in the film where Chaves really takes the reins: the first 10 minutes of the film which show the exorcism of David Glatzel, which is jaw-dropping. The other scene is when we begin to see the possessed Arne spiral into insanity before stabbing his landlord. Chaves’ talent is there. He just needs to find the right project.
As for the scares, there are a few that will get the audience to jump out of their chair or curl up in fear. The set-ups for the scares are entertaining and most of them land pretty well. One scene, in particular, featuring David Glatzel (played by Julian Hilliard) as he comes in contact with waterbed, which will make you think twice before sleeping on one. There’s also another moment where we see Arne Johnson at work trying to cut down a tree – but as usual with films like this, things don’t go as planned. Should the movie be Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing images? Personally, I don’t think so, but if someone is going to see it and doesn’t typically watch horror movies, it may be enough to terrify them.
As for the acting, America’s parents, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson (who play Lorraine and Ed Warren) are just as charming as ever. No one can deny that their relationship is one of the main reasons we tune in because it feels so loving and genuine. As for Ruairi O’Connor, who plays Arne Johnson, he embodied that “nice guy” persona making it easy to think he would be someone you could hang out with. But I do have to give him credit because once his transformation happens after being possessed, he commits to it. I just wish we got more time with the character. Sarah Catherine Hook, who plays Debbie Glatzel, was the only character I couldn’t get on board with. Sure, she saw the exorcism of her brother so she’s seen more than most people, BUT we never really see her question what Arne did, which led to it feeling disingenuous. And that’s the other issue… why are we trying to paint Arne as a good guy?
In all, it breaks my heart to say I wasn’t a fan of THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT. I truly wanted to love it because I’m such a massive fan of the previous two films. The movie really suffers under the weight of the writing, especially when it’s revealed as to why all this is happening. To be quite blunt, the reasoning is stupid and lazy and takes away from the overall impact of the film. Additionally, there needs to be a reconfiguration of how the Warrens are presented, especially considering so many of us know their true story. It’s time to stop pretending they are saviors and to show the bad side along with the good side. Though THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT didn’t work for me, I truly hope it works for you.
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT arrives in theaters and IMAX and on HBO Max on June 4. It will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from the theatrical release.
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