THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Shannon Kook, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Keith Arthur Bolden, Steve Coulter, Ingrid Bisu, Andrea Andrade, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Sterling Jerins, Paul Wilson, Charlene Amoia, Davis Osborne, Mark Rowe, Kaleka and Stella Doyle.
Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick.
Directed by Michael Chaves.
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 112 minutes. Rated R.
There are two problems with the latest Conjuring movie having the arch subtitle The Devil Made Me Do It. First off there is the basic storyline problem: the evil entity in this film is not the Devil, it is merely a demon. Second of all, viewers of a certain age (like me!) can’t hear the term “The Devil made me do it” without picturing 1970s comedian Flip Wilson flouncing around in a dress and a wig as his popular character of Geraldine. That mental picture makes it hard to take the movie all that seriously.
The title isn’t the only blatant 1970s reference in the third Conjuring film (although the action in the film actually takes place in 1981). An early prologue scene is obviously meant to bring to mind the much better fright film The Exorcist. This goes right down to the filmmakers quite brazenly reenacting the iconic Exorcist moment where a priest in an overcoat and a hat stands in stark, shadowy silhouette in front of a well-lit home where a small child is in need of an exorcism.
However, as much as the film would like to be a classic horror like The Exorcist, it is really a pretty run-of-the-mill modern scare film – loaded up with sudden jump scares and telling a story that makes little or no sense. It may as well be a carnival haunted house ride – lots of stuff jumping out at you randomly, but with no real narrative spine.
On the very basic, elemental level as a thrill ride, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It kind of worked. I jumped in my seat several times. Some scenes were legitimately scary.
Too bad about that storyline, though.
Like the other two Conjuring films (as well as most of the spinoff movies, including three Annabelle movies, The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona), The Devil Made Me Do It is “based” on a true story in the career of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. (The Warrens were also the lead investigators in real story which became The Amityville Horror, but the Amityville films are not part of the Conjuring Cinematic Universe series of films.)
I put “based” in quotes because the movies obviously take a good deal of cinematic license with the stories. In particular with this film, which despite the chyron claiming it to be a true story is nearly impossible to believe really happened, or at the very least really happened as this film claims it did. Now, all the CCU movies obviously stretch things. Even the first Conjuring, which is the only truly good film in the series, was clearly ratcheting up the scares in quite unrealistic ways.
However, as I sat in my seat in the darkened theater and let The Conjuring 3 wash over me, all too often I found myself thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” That is probably not the reaction that the filmmakers were going for.
The Devil Made Me Do It is “based” on the case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, the first person in the United States to fight a murder charge with a defense of not guilty due to demonic possession. Now, before you get visions of Law & Order: Special Demons Unit dancing in your head, the actual trial sequences here are pretty short and inconsequential. You can’t really have jump scares in a court room. Well, you could, but it would take some serious finessing…
Instead, the film revolves on how Arne became possessed, how the demon caused Arne to kill his slimy boss (apparently the guy’s complete lack of work ethic, his obnoxiousness, his alcoholism and his insistence on playing classic rock hits at ear-splitting volume was not cause enough), and how the demon then haunts Arne and the Warrens.
Arne was not even the first person to be possessed in the film. That was David, the little boy mentioned above. The Warrens and his family and a priest did an exorcism on the boy which seems like The Exorcist with CGI. The boy’s sister’s fiancé Arne – being the stand-up guy he was – loudly begged the demon to take him instead of the child. Oddly, even though the Warrens, the priest and the family all witnessed this bargain and saw that the child was set free from the possession, everyone (Arne included) takes an awful long time to figure out that maybe the demon took him up on his offer.
Of course, the Warrens were a little distracted. During the rite, Ed had a massive demon-related heart attack and spends the rest of the film on the mend, often winded and in need of his pills. However, eventually the demon-busting couple find that a totem has been left under Arne’s home, and he has apparently been cursed.
They also find that another case where a similar totem was found had recently led to the murder and suicide of two college co-eds. Therefore, the Warrens set out to find who is cursing these young people and what the purpose was. (Strangely, after all the time spent trying to figure out what the connection was between the victims in the two cases, the movie never really does explain.)
There’s more to the tale, of course – and frankly you know that the creepy former priest with a fascination in the occult probably has something to do with the goings-on the second you see him – but none of it really matters. All of it is an excuse to have lots of demons jumping out of the shadows and hallucinations of violence. It’s scary and stupid, all at the same time.
Apparently, the producers of The Conjuring are planning on continuing to do a deep dive into the casebooks of the Warrens to keep spinning off creepy tales for years to come. However, if The Devil Made Me Do It is any indication, the whole enterprise is starting to get pretty threadbare.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 3, 2021.