The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Synopsis: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren take on one of the most sensational cases of their careers after a cop stumbles upon a dazed and bloodied young man walking down the road. Accused of murder, the suspect claims demonic possession as his defense, forcing the Warrens into a supernatural inquiry unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
The Conjuring brand continues to leave an unshakable impact on the horror industry, with James Wan’s 2013 breakout spawning an unparalleled run of genre blockbusters. Despite their financial success, I have felt underwhelmed by what the series has had to offer. Wan’s masterful craftsmanship always elevated his refined haunted house sensibility, but the myriad of dull spin-offs have never matched the original’s winning formula. Even The Conjuring 2, which received similar acclaim to its predecessor, left me feeling cold from its bloated narrative.
I have disappointingly disagreed with the glowing critical consensus, so leave it for the franchise’s most divisive films yet to be my personal favorite. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It infuses a detective procedural pastiche into the brand’s somewhat stagnate sensibility. Led by The Curse of La Llorona helmer Michael Chavis, the latest Warren odyssey strikes an astute and refreshingly playful deviation from the franchise’s storied traditions.
Chavis and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick wisely lean into the series’ strongest appeal. Stalwarts Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga continue to form a wonderfully lived-in pair as Ed and Lorraine Warren. With three and a half movies of chemistry under their belt (both are partially in Annabelle Comes Home), both actors possess infectious charm and comfortability as the storied paranormal couple. Whether Ed’s grimacing at Lorraine’s dangerous spiritual descents or Lorraine remembering Ed’s medicine, the film features several sleight character beats that liven and exemplify their loving connection. It’s a joy to see the Warren’s take the spotlight over well-calibrated scares, with the two characters continuing to develop a strong emotional core for audiences to attach to (a warm flashback of their initial romance was a genius inclusion).
The Devil Made Me Do It steps into new territory with relative success. Director Michael Chavis can’t implement Wan’s masterful precision, but the upcoming director intelligently plays into the material’s procedural yarn. As the Warren’s piece the puzzle behind a devilish curse, Chavis keeps the case-changing revelations coming at a free-flowing pace. A slew of well-placed needle drops and nostalgic camera techniques (the classic horror references are rampant) keeps the energy high even when the scares aren’t on screen. Chavis also displays some noticeable improvements from the dreadful La Llorona, constructing a few well-choreographed scares through his patient touch behind the camera.
Similar to its predecessors, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It suffers most when the Warren’s are off-screen. The frames dedicated to Arnie (roughly a third of the movie), the well-meaning victim behind the dreaded curse, lack in terms of humanity and agency. Ruairi O’Connor and Sarah Catherine Hook do their best to give these moments a pulse as Arnie and his fiancee, but the rudimentary developments never elevate the duo past thankless victims. I also wish the film went even further with its dive into Ed and Lorraine’s long-standing marriage, leaving a lot of the heavy lifting to an ending that’s somewhat hokey in its delivery.
Even with that considered, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It may be my biggest surprise of the year so far. Chavis and company construct an amiable change-up that refreshes the series’ well-trudged formula. I hope these films continue to take risks as the franchise only continues to grow.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is now playing in theaters nationwide and on HBO Max.
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