James Wan changed modern horror in 2013 with the release of The Conjuring. No one was truly expecting how much of a success this out-of-nowhere film was going to gain, nor did anyone expect the lasting legacy that The Conjuring would have on the genre. Eight years down the line the Conjuring Universe is now eight films richer, with four primary branches being explored (Conjuring, Annabelle, The Nun, and The Curse of La Llorona).
The reason for the depth of films primarily relies upon The Warren’s having explored a senseless amount of paranormal cases, reportedly in the thousands. Out of these occurrences, the most opportunistic and intriguing one has to be the murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, which saw a young man who stabbed his landlord more than twenty times plead not guilty because “the devil made me do it…
Directing is Michael Chaves who is no stranger to the Conjuring Universe after the box office failure of The Curse of La Llorona, and in true Hollywood fashion, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It drifts entirely from the actual case. Not once did Ed and Lorraine Warren successfully bring a demon to court with them, instead, the judge immediately dismissed the claim of ‘default by possession’, but movie magic has to perform its spell to deliver.
So, in this fictional ‘true story’ we have at the roots a film that primarily follows Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson starring as Mr. and Mrs. Warren as they sieve through a plethora of ghastly ghouls whilst acting as actual detectives on multiple police cases. Matching this is a selective amount of dimensional characters, a heart warming love story, and a well-rounded look that thematically blossoms throughout.
It is undeniable that The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has its appealing features, with one of the top notes belonging to the Warren’s themselves. Most of the runtime is devoted to them as they scour to find clues as well as reminisce about how they met; in fact we are delivered quite a warming love story.
And for me, this is what has allowed not just this entry, but the previous Conjuring films to draw fans in, we can’t help but adore a continuation, something steady to follow no matter how cliché the story gets.
However, this is not a romance film at the basis, but instead a ‘supposed’ terrifying story of possession. But this is where the positive aspects begin to wallow. Joining the Warrens are our other leads, the harmless perpetrator Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) and his partner Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook). As aforementioned, we see Arne become possessed and brutally murder his landlord whilst in the presence of Debbie, but she stands by his claims and is at his beck and call.
They spiritually embody a younger version of Ed and Lorraine whose bond is unbreakable, and I do have to admit that I was immersed in their theatrics and their overarching outcomes did matter to me. Chaves certainly relies on fleshing out fruitful characters to deepen backstories and strengthen the spine of the narrative.
Clearly, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has plenty of heart, but does it have any brains? Now comes the rapid downfall that sinks in just when we should be gripping to the edge of our seats. Unfortunately, Chaves’ bad luck from The Curse of La Llorona has followed him as the scares are certainly stretched thin. I watch a hefty amount of horror films every week so eventually, I do adapt to pre-packaged plot devices, particularly the dreaded jumpscare.
The sudden appearance of a daunting image accompanied by a swell in orchestral strings has plagued the genre for a dreadful amount of time. That is not to say that jumpscares are impossible to effectively use, with some of horror’s greatest scenes deriving from the tactic, including that terrifying scene in The Descent where the hideous humanoid appears behind a woman’s shoulder, or when the bright red demon appears out of nowhere in the infamous Insidious scene. Chaves on the other hand used them extensively to the point of being formulaic, where anyone could have seen them coming a mile off.
Similarly, the entire film’s structure could be described as exposition, silence, jumpscare, exposition, silence, jumpscare; and so forth. What happens with this predictability is the essence of familiarity, and ultimately boredom. Sitting through a film that is 1hr and 52 minutes where you can see every single climax before it even happens is challenging, but what added to this was the constant tangent that the film drifted off to.
As I’ve previously mentioned, Johnson’s possession claim was immediately dismissed as legally there was no way to prove innocence, instead, the lawyers went down a self-defense route. Obviously, if the film would have followed reality then everything would have been solved in under an hour, but to uphold feature film requirements there needed to be plenty of filler.
The gauzes to pad the film were dull, with unnecessary deep dives into other possession murder cases being explored by the Warrens. The overexertion dragged the film out until my attention had nearly completely broken down.
My overall thoughts remain unbalanced, with neither a love nor hate opinion residing. Alternatively, I enjoyed the refreshing involvement of character arcs but was entirely let down by the extraneous shelling out in an attempt to deliver a ‘wide’ film. At times films with grand budgets get lost in the freedom of finance, with a favouring in exploring dozens of locations and expensive exterior shots; whereas indie films have to be good internally as there is no opportunity to fill in the gaps with pricy stills.
A keen focus to honing in is what The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It desperately needed, and more importantly the entire franchise needs to form its dedication to the genre better and take a note out of The Conjuring’s (2013) book of expertise.