2021 | R | starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Sarah Katherine Hook, Ruairi O’Connor, Julian Hilliard, John Noble | directed by Michael Chaves | 1 hr 52 mins |
When James Wan’s 70s throwback R-rated possession film The Conjuring snuck up on audiences in 2013 it was a perfectly enclosed film with a start and an ending, but because everything is a cinematic universe now, Warner Bros. set about to make the most useless interconnected series of films of them all, forcing useless scenes into the Ed and Loraine Warren Hub films just to spin them off into Annabelle, The Nun and The Curse of Llorona. Despite constantly threatening to retire from horror James Wan returned for The Conjuring 2, a surprisingly effective and incredibly satisfying sequel. Now we have a third installment in the Ed and Loraine Warren critical path series with Wan stepping off the helm and a story that can’t find it’s focus. I’ve really enjoyed these movies so it’s disappointing to see the third Conjuring film is as bad as the spin-offs.
Director of The Curse of Llonora, Michael Chaves get elevated to the Warren story with Wan stepping back to producer. Chaves tries his hardest to do a James Wan impression but Wan’s eye for constructing jump set-pieces is noticeably absent. His ability to construct a Rube Goldberg series of distractions, anticipate where we are looking and spring the jump from the other direction was done masterfully in the first two films. The Conjuring: Devil Made Me Do It doesn’t have any of those scenes, zagging away from haunted house theatrics to a true crime possession film.
Like the first two films, Devil is a Client-based story focusing on the Glatzel family, who upon moving into their new home suffer a demonic possession of their 8 year old child (Julian Hilliard, the bespectacled boy from Color Out of Space). Soon the demon transfers to his sister’s (Sarah Katherine Hook) soon-t0-be fiancé Arnie Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), he murders a man and is put on trial facing the death penalty. Now deeply involved in the clients, ghost hunters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Loraine (Vera Farmiga) seek to mount the first American defense of not guilty by demonic possession, track down another missing girl who appears to be linked and stop the demonic curse.
It’s always reassuring to see Wilson and Farmiga in the leads – but, my God, does this movie saddle them with some hackneyed dialog. I particularly liked:
Cop: “You’re afraid she can’t do it?”
Wilson: “I’m afraid she will”.
Wilson: “Where do we start?”
Farmiga: “The beginning”
As skillful as it was in the atmospheric horror, The Conjuring 2 is almost notorious for it’s finale which descends into an over-the-top CGI light and sound explosion in contrast to the rest of the film’s understatement. Devil Made Me Do It starts off on that over-the-top note with a body contorting demonic possession. It could have gone in a lot of directions – focusing on Arnie’s possession, hunting the witch’s curse or, more interestingly, switching the series up entirely and turning it into a courtroom drama that felt through arguments about possession, crime and free will. The final product is a muddled, unfocused mess of mediocrity, ditching the court case (“that gripped the nation!”) for a crime film with requisite ghost scenes that are neither scary or exciting. It plays like a TV series procedural.