Directed by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) — Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick.
Cinematic universes and film series with numerous spin-offs — in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — are all the rage these days. The primary example of this in the horror genre is the Conjuring film-universe, which, at this point in time, consists of eight films. This horror film cinematic universe was essentially launched by James Wan, who is probably one of the most influential horror filmmakers of the last ten years, and his films in the series — The Conjuring I and II — are, frankly, the best and most memorable films in the entire film series. For that reason, I was very nervous when I heard that he would step away from the franchise and let Michael Chaves, who directed The Curse of La Llorona (which I really did not like), continue, or potentially finish, the titular series of films in the Conjuring film-universe. After having now seen the third main-line Conjuring-film, I can say that even though it is nowhere near as good as Wan’s films, Chaves’ second film in this film universe is admittedly significantly better than his previous film.
Michael Chaves’ The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the first of its kind to not be a haunted house movie (though it perhaps says a lot about the film that arguably its best sequence is the opening, which takes place inside of a house where a young boy has been possessed). But the film does, indeed, open with an exorcism. Ed (played by Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga) have tried to help the Glatzel family and their youngest, David (played by Julian Hilliard), who appears to be possessed by a demon. But during the hectic exorcism, Ed is attacked by the demon and he promptly suffers a heart attack. Meanwhile, Arne Johnson (played by Ruairi O’Connor), the boyfriend of David’s older sister, pleads with the demon and convinces it to take him instead. Everyone thinks it’s all over, but then a supposedly possessed Arne attacks and murders his landlord. The Warrens believe that he was the victim of a possession, but how do they prove it in court? Can they?
I noted that this was meant to be the first film in this trilogy to not be a haunted house movie. While that may sound exciting, I don’t think what replaces that formula is particularly exciting. It is genuinely frustrating to me that even though the premise of the film, as well as the title, seems to indicate that this is at least a little bit meant to be a courtroom horror-drama in the vein of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which I think is a genuinely underrated horror film, the film doesn’t really ever become a courtroom film. There are brief scenes with lawyers and scenes set inside of courtrooms, there is a sequence where the Warrens partner up with a detective in an attempt to better understand their case, but it never becomes the film that the title seems to indicate.
There are some strong flashes here and there. Like when the director is clearly referencing an iconic shot from The Exorcist in the opening exorcism sequence, or when he seems to be calling back to the style used by James Wan to reference his films in the franchise, which sometimes use tracking shots inside of the main locations to make it decipherable where everything is in relation to each character later in the film. The best thing about the film, though, is the relationship between the Warrens. That relationship is the beating heart of the film series, and it is the reason I keep returning to these films. But, frustratingly, there isn’t a lot else here that is particularly memorable.
Whereas the previous films in the trilogy did a good job of setting up the franchise as a whole with characters such as ‘Annabelle’ or ‘the Nun,’ The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it does pretty much nothing to teaser further instalments, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but it becomes a little bit annoying when that lack of an intriguing side-character or entity makes the film feel lesser as a result. Previous films in the franchise have focused a lot on the entities that possessed or otherwise haunted the film’s characters, but I think it is a little bit disappointing that this film ultimately uses an antagonist that feels like an inverse version of one of the film’s main characters. It is different but it also feels uninventive.
I have made it very clear that I have been quite concerned about this movie. I was unsure about whether or not someone else could take over where James Wan left off and make a satisfying continuation of the main film series in this franchise. Frankly, Michael Chaves would not have been my first choice for the job due to my lack of enthusiasm for his previous film, The Curse of La Llorona. But I must say that even though I think Chaves’ continuation of the main film series is quite unremarkable or middling, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It should satisfy most fans of the franchise. It is nowhere near as good as Wan’s films, but it is a decent continuation of the film series. It won’t knock your socks off, but it’ll do the job most people will want it to do.
6.5 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.