Back in 2013, director James Wan made THE CONJURING, a horror film I liked a lot, although I liked his previous horror flick INSIDIOUS (2010) even more. THE CONJURING was a huge success and spawned a sequel and then an entire “universe” comprised of films telling the stories of the various demons in these movies, most notably the devil doll Annabelle. Some of these films have been good, and a lot of them have been not so good. None have been as strong as the first CONJURING movie.
Now comes the second direct sequel to the original, THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021), which in spite of its laughable title, isn’t half bad. Which means it isn’t half good either.
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT tells the further adventures of demon hunters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) as they take on another case of demonic possession and murder. Ed and Lorraine Warren were real people, most famous for their involvement with the infamous Amityville Horror case. And these movies take full advantage of that fact, always ominously declaring “based on a true story.”
Although this is the third film in the CONJURING series, this is the fourth time Wilson and Farmiga have played these roles, as they appeared in the very weak ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019), the third film in that spinoff series!
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT opens with…you got it!… an exorcism scene! Ed and Lorraine Warren are helping a family exorcise an evil spirit from the body of their young son. However, the demon is none too happy about leaving… are they ever? You’d think some of these demons would learn the art of subtlety. You know, mess around a bit here and there, have some fun, but never call attention to themselves. They could have a long and happy life inside their host bodies. Anyway, that’s not how the demons in these movies roll.
The boyfriend of the boy’s older sister, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), decides to play the hero and calls the demon into his own body, and the demon obliges. Later, when Arne kills a man and is arrested for murder, Ed and Lorraine come to his defense, claiming that he is possessed. However, their “tests” on him reveal that he’s not possessed, which confuses them since they know the demon jumped bodies and entered Arne. So, they realize that they are now dealing with something entirely different from anything they had encountered before. Oooh! Scary!!! They decide to investigate further, promising Arne that they will help him, and as they search for clues, they discover that Arne is the victim of… drum roll please…. a curse!
Now it’s up to Ed and Lorraine to figure out just who has cursed the young man, and what this means for them because the source of the curse is none too happy about being investigated and is more than ready to strike back and inflict some harm on the Warrens!
As horror stories go, the one told in THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT isn’t bad. I liked following Ed and Lorraine on their investigation, and the story builds up some suspense as it goes along, and it was enough to keep me interested. And both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are solid in their roles, as they always are, and so this helps as well.
But the biggest problem I had with this third CONJURING movie, and it’s the same problem I have with all the films in this “universe” other than the first one, is that little or no effort is made to make the story being told believable. Other than the “based on a true story” tagline, there’s nothing resembling truth here. Take the opening exorcism scene, for instance. The gold standard for exorcism scenes remains the climactic exorcism in THE EXORCIST (1973). And while that scene did exhibit Hollywood special effects, it worked, because it was built on a solid story, and by the time you reach that point in the movie, you are just so rattled that believability is not an issue. You’ll believe anything at that point. The filmmakers convinced you of it.
In the opening exorcism scene here, which also riffs on THE EXORCIST as the sequence showing the exorcist arriving at the house is exceedingly derivative of Max von Sydow’s arrival in THE EXORCIST, special effects spew out like a Disney theme ride…. although I have to give credit where credit is due. Supposedly they hired a contortionist to actually do the twisted body movements, so that’s pretty cool…but without any background or back story, we simply don’t care about these people, we have no idea what they’ve been through, or have any understanding of their plight, and so none of this lends to any semblance of believability.
Throughout the movie, the dialogue, as it is throughout this CONJURING/ANNABELLE universe, is phony and unrealistic. When Ed and Lorraine talk about demons so matter-of-factly, it sounds like a dated vampire movie. They make little attempt to convince people that what they are saying is true, and in these movies, they don’t have to since demons are more active than your local political party. When Ed and Lorraine speak, they sound crazy. No effort is made to convince the audience that, yes, this is farfetched, but it really happened. Nope. The message is, this is farfetched, it really happened, and you’ll just have to take our word for it.
Sorry. No can do.
The screenplay, then, by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on a story by James Wan, and on characters by Chad Hayes, constructs a surprisingly riveting story but drops the ball with the dialogue and authenticity. I didn’t believe in what was happening for a second. Johnson-McGoldrick has an impressive resume too. He wrote the screenplay for ORPHAN (2009), a horror film I liked a lot, and for RED RIDING HOOD (2011) a horror film which was widely panned but that I also liked a lot. But he also wrote the scripts for WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012), THE CONJURING 2 (2016), and AQUAMAN (2018), films I wasn’t so keen on.
Michael Chaves took over the directing duties from James Wan this time around and does a commendable job. While I wouldn’t categorize THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT as scary, there are some effective and entertaining horror scenes, a couple in particular involving a reanimated hulking corpse. The film enjoys some fine visual moments.
Unfortunately it suffers from the “been there, done that” syndrome. In spite of the fact that Ed and Lorraine are now investigating a “curse” rather than a demonic possession, there really isn’t anything in this movie we haven’t seen before.
On the plus side, though, Joseph Bishara’s chilling music score adds quite a bit to the movie.
All in all, THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT is a solid yet unremarkable entry in the CONJURING series. It will entertain fans and nonfans alike. It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect for a third film in a series.
Which is to say it doesn’t make any new inroads or impressions. It just rehashes previous themes and characterizations and manages to do so in a respectable fashion.
You don’t need the devil to make you watch this one. It’s halfway decent on its own.