Movie Review: “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”

   The Conjuring series has been around for a while now, hasn’t it? What started with James Wan‘s initial supernatural 2013 hit has since been followed with a successful spin-off trilogy with Annabelle and even a box office best with The Nun. I can tell you right away I was excited for it, having truly adored The Conjuring 2, as well as the portrayal of the Warrens by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively. Unfortunately, although that charm is certainly present and accounted for, accompanied by skillful technique, I can’t help but think The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a little humdrum.

Something that worried me heading in was the change of director. James Wan has manned the reins since the original film and the horror maestros absence is certainly a cause for cautious skepticism (he does receive a story credit, however). How many tales of woe have we seen where a change in director has spelled out a loss in quality? Michael Chaves directs The Conjuring 3, whose last film The Curse of Llorona left a sour taste in my mouth. Evidently, given how New Line Cinema has issued corrections to analysts who group Llorona with The Conjuring Universe, I wonder if New Line was disappointed by the film as well. For what it’s worth, Chaves’ sophomore horror film is a considerable improvement over his first.

Although Wan is gone, the heart of The Conjuring series can still be found with Wilson and Farmiga’s portrayal. Their chemistry and skillful performances are core to the series, and you can tell how comfortable and at home they are with the roles. In the same way The Conjuring 2 doubled-down on their relationship and comradery, Conjuring 3 does it again and then some, showing their togetherness as their greatest weapon.

The Devil Made Me Do It follows the case of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), charged with murdering his landlord in 1981. The kicker here though is that, according to him and his attorney, Arne was the victim of demonic possession. Ed and Lorraine are now tasked with proving Johnson’s innocence, with the looming threat of a death sentence not far off, not to mention the demonic presence in the background.

Director Michael Chaves is skillful, as is the overall production. Chaves was skillful in Llorona as well. The film has small flickers of inspiration and vision, both of its own and when paying homage to classic horror. Everything is high-quality and high-standard, and exactly what we’ve come to expect from The Conjuring series on the technical side. This isn’t a half-baked throwaway cash-in type film. This isn’t as bad as Exorcist II: The Heretic or anything, and while it isn’t as good as The Exorcist III either, it’s a decent Conjuring film.

The premise had my attention as well, with trailers highlighting Patrick Wilson’s line: “The Court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth, I think it’s about time they accept the existence of the devil.” It’s a cool line, and, really, I was into it.

What this film doesn’t have, however, is much in the way of memorable scenes or a distinct antagonist. It’s an old-ghosty-lady, for lack of a more eloquent description, and, frankly, we’ve had a lot of those in the horror genre. We’ve had more than our fair share in the Conjuring Universe by itself, actually. There’re moments here and there, but nothing that ever stuck with me, and nothing I can really aptly describe to you after having just watched the film. No character like Annabelle, Crooked Man, or The Nun, you’ll come out of the theaters talking about. If I had to describe it in such terms, I’d say The Conjuring 3 lands about the same way The Nun did. It’s better than the Annabelle and far more skillful on all fronts, but it’s a lot of skill and talent thrown at making something safe and bland.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is available in theaters and on HBO Max as of this writing. If you’re a fan of series, I would offer you a modest recommendation in theaters, otherwise it’s perfectly suitable for a popcorn-and-movie night at home.

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