Review by: Lauren Murphy
Earlier this month, The Arcade and I were lucky enough to watch The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and even got to attend a virtual press conference for the movie where director Michael Chaves, producer/writer James Wan, and actors Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Ruairi O’Connor answered questions sent in by the press.
By now, after two other movies; The Conjuring, and The Conjuring 2, we are well versed in Ed and Lorraine Warren and how they operate together as a unit against the forces of evil. We know it is their love for one another that pushes them forward against demonic forces, and we know they are our window into the world of The Conjuring that we can enter from the safety of our own homes.
This time around, it is director Michael Chaves who takes our hand to guide us through a much larger Conjuring world than what we are previously used to. But does this larger world work better than the previous claustrophobic haunted house trope we have come to expect from The Conjuring world?
The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It, revolves around the true story case of Arne Johnson, a young man arrested for a murder, who then claims that the Devil has possessed him and therein we get the title for the movie itself. But did the Devil really make Arne Johnson do it? The Warrens attempt to find a reasoning behind Johnson’s claim, and in doing so, they open up the world of The Conjuring to the audience and give us a front row seat to how two demonologists would work with a real-life case including police, and even a possessed child.
The opening to the movie might just be the scariest in The Conjuring universe as we’re met with a scene that could easily be an homage to The Exorcist, and even by Chaves’ own admission in the press conference, it is just that.
“I shamelessly wanted to throw out nods to The Exorcist and there are a couple Psycho nods in there, as well.”
There is huge praise to be given to the young actor Julian Hilliard, playing the role of possessed David Glatzel, as he certainly sets the tone with the image of a child wrestling internally with the devil, much like that of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The CGI and practical effects within this scene work so well together to give us a real scare, something we’ve come to expect from The Conjuring universe and anything that James Wan puts his hand to.
The good thing about the scares in The Devil Made Me Do It is that Chaves doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares, instead he prefers to stick with building tension and atmosphere with music and cinematography. More often than not the audience will find themselves watching the dark corner of the screen, or the space behind a character for something that may or may not be there. The unknown is what works in the scares for this iteration of The Conjuring.
One of the most consistent threads within The Conjuring universe is the love that the Warren’s feel for one another. And of course, this movie does not shy away from that at all. During the press conference, Wilson and Farmiga were asked about the love story that the movie shares with the Warren’s, and Wilson had this to say;
“I would say that this film probably has some of the darkest moments of any in the universe, but you also have those moments of deep, profound romance, and we don’t go halfway with either.”
And of course, Wilson is completely right, they don’t go halfway with horror or love. The stakes are higher this time for Ed and Lorraine, and Chaves and Wan are not afraid to make us feel that right from the outset. Once more, we fear for the lives of our protagonists and fear for a life that could leave them grieving a love that seems to triumph over evil.
Unfortunately, while the scares and atmosphere are there and are enough to give us a semi successful horror movie, the meandering plot does leave the audience floundering to try and keep up. Our villain this time around is not as terrifying as Bathsheba, Annabelle, or even Valak and some could even go so far as to say that this villain is almost caricature like in it’s portrayal. There is a little problem with the story being a paint by numbers style, and the ending does feel like it’s almost become typical of The Conjuring universe, and therefore could and does become predictable.
The decision to open up the world to a broader universe, involving the police department and stepping outside of the usual haunted house trope we have come to know in the first two Conjuring movies is one that should work, and yet in so many ways it fails that test. What worked in previous movies is missing from the third installment, and by stepping into an open world scenario we lose the claustrophobic home trope that always worked so well before.
It is interesting to see the Warren’s working with the police department as it does give the universe more of a grounding element in a realistic sense. We know the Warren’s did in fact work with police, especially in regards to this story of Arne Johnson, but to see it, to see Lorraine working through an event that has happened in the past, gives another small sense of fear, and fear of the ‘true story’. Of course, the movie decides to focus more on the Warren’s fight against the forces of evil and their belief that they can either save Johnson’s soul, or help him through his trial, but the interesting decision not to show us the trial of Arne Johnson grounds us more in the horror element of the story instead of the real-life murder trial.
The movie isn’t bad in any sense of the word, and it is not a failure for The Conjuring universe, but it does feel like it has settled on a lower rung of the ladder. The open world doesn’t work as well as it should have, especially for those of us who are used to the claustrophobic nature of the previous movies. It is Wilson and Farmiga who keep us engaged throughout, once again proving that the real strength in The Conjuring universe is that of the Warren’s and their love for one another.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is in Irish cinemas right now.