“The Conjuring” movies offer a fascinating peek into the American psyche. Based on the lives of the Northeastern paranormal investigators' Ed and Lorraine Warren, the franchise demands viewers invest in a worldview ruled by Christian dogma, where Godly good must battle satanic evil. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is by far the most well-constructed, terrifying entry in the franchise, but its plot relies all too heavily on that same bizarre evangelism.
“The Devil Made Me Do It,” helmed by the “Curse of La Llorona” director Michael Chaves, opens on a slickly stylized exorcism. Heavy fog introduces a series of imposing, angular shots as Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) work to free an 8-year-old boy from demonic possession. Top-notch sound mixing and a booming score keep this sequence taut, even exhilarating, as the demon slips from its child host to the unsuspecting Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor). In an even more chilling series of scenes, a possessed Arne later stabs his landlord to death. It is then up to the Warrens to prove that Arne is not guilty because of the satanic curse.
As a rule, the words “based on a true story” should trigger any viewer’s skepticism; that’s, even more, the case when a movie is as straight-faced in its presentation of supernatural events as these are. Not that you had to believe a second of the first two “Conjuring” movies — both directed with pulse-quickening intensity by James Wan (who’s credited as a producer here) — to find them wildly entertaining, especially since stories about possessions and hauntings are predicated on a shivery suspension of disbelief, to begin with. If the illusion is slower to take hold in “The Devil Made Me Do It,” it’s because of the heightened moral stakes — the question of a man’s guilt or innocence in the matter of a monstrous crime — as well as the movie, ’s a more workmanlike approach to shocks and scares.
What’s most interesting about this new spiritual battle is that the Warrens are confronted with a human villain with similar aptitudes as theirs (but harnessed for the occult) as opposed to free-flowing energies from hell. Farmiga devours the role once again with a mix of fragility and determination. Her concern for Wilson’s Ed, amplified when a totem appears in their home, contrasts with the toll that we know each assignment takes on Lorraine. There’s no reinvention to the characters, but a solid reprisal.
The franchise is at its scariest when it doesn’t rely heavily on the CGI creatures and instead on the inherent eeriness of the darkness and what it hides. In “The Conjuring 2,” the longer and closer we stare at the computerized Crooked Man and The Nun, the less terrifying they become. Showing, rather than suggesting, has been a problem over the last decade or so in many big-studio horror movies.
The Devil Made Me Do It occasionally grows a bit murky. While the Arne Johnson story is the catalyst here, Arne himself feels almost forgotten as the film proceeds. Sure, there are occasional scenes where we see Arne tormented in prison, but he feels completely secondary, almost as if he’s in a different movie. And not a very compelling one, either. It’s much more interesting to spend our time with the Warrens, especially when they encounter the film’s villain. Rather than a demon nun or a ghostly witch, the enemy in The Devil Made Me Do It is a living person. She’s a mysterious figure known as The Occultist, and while having the Warrens go up against a real person as an adversary feels slightly strange, it ultimately works thanks to the performance of Eugenie Bondurant. Bondurant strikes a creepy figure with a scowling face and a gaunt figure, and while the character’s motivations never really make sense, Bondurant manages to make her a genuinely creepy presence.
There is no denying that Wilson and Farmiga have come to portray two of the most iconic figures of contemporary horror. That familiarity, down to the Warrens’ customary sculpted hairdos and old-fashioned, thoughtfully costume-designed clothes, is both comforting and transfixing—we somehow came to want to spend time with this duo and perhaps even to feel safe in their presence. But our goodwill and sense of nostalgia for the Warrens go only so far in this third film. One almost wishes Chaves and Johnson-McGoldrick had not tried to reinvent the wheel, and instead just stuck with the franchise’s sophisticated simplicity and tried-and-true paranormal formula. Without a focal haunted house, this one just doesn’t feel like a film that belongs in “The Conjuring” universe.
Final Score – [7.5/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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