REVIEW: The Conjuring – The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
Grossing nearly $2billion to date, The Conjuring is one of the most successful horror franchises of all time. James Wan birthed yet another tremendously successful series back in 2013, following in the footsteps of his previous franchise starter with a small, indie feature called Saw. Whether it was needed for The Conjuring to become the franchise it is today, with multiple sequels and spin offs of varying degrees of quality is a topic for another day, but 2021 sees a return to the Ed and Lorraine Warren well of paranormal investigations.
Following a grisly murder in a small town, the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are summoned to investigate following a claim by the suspect, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) that he fell victim to demonic possession. In-universe, we know that demons and the paranormal are real, so the Warrens set out their investigation in a bid to lessen Arne’s sentence by proving the existence of evil.
Taking the focal point of the franchise out of the hands of its main man is certainly a risk, but director Michael Chaves takes a leaf or two out of James Wan’s impressive directing handbook. The Curse of La Llorona director mimics the one-take through a house, establishing its geography for the audience as we await whatever terror awaits our central family. It’s a nice touch and sets the scene nicely for the disaster that soon follows. The problem, mind you, is its ultimate futility on the events of The Devil Made Me Do It.
Where The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 were set almost entirely within certain houses and the knowledge of the houses’ geography benefits the viewing experience, the threequel spends much more time away from the house than it does inside it. As such, The Conjuring 3 suffers from failing to ground its audience in one location, constantly moving from place to place, and diminishes the impact of any intended scares because you simply have no knowledge of where demons could come from. One of the more exciting features of watching a horror film is the experience of watching the background; did something just move behind them, that candle was lit a few moments ago, I don’t like how dark that shadow is. You can appreciate the franchise trying to do something different, but the film’s inability to have a location upon which to base its scares severely hampers its overall impact.
Truthfully, The Conjuring 3 barely registers any impact at all. After a promising start – the film’s opening scene is also its best as the Warrens help a family complete an exorcism in a scene that’s as equally tense as it is genuinely upsetting – The Devil Made Me Do It fails to muster scares from its premise due to poor execution. There is an over reliance on one technique to generate a cheap jump scare. The camera would zoom in slowly on a location to build tension for a scare, pull away without one to release tension, and then hits you with the jump scare on the next camera movement. To generate a quick scare simply, go ahead, but when Chaves deploys this trick multiple times (by my count, there are at least four such moments), the efficacy of the scare is lost completely.
Throughout, The Conjuring 3 suffers from obviously telegraphed scares, only ever deploying them in set-pieces that are clearly designed to elicit fear. Horror films have their planned set-pieces, but their impact relies upon the build up of tension before their arrival. The Conjuring and James Wan did this to tremendous effect, throwing in surprise moments at the drop of a hat, constantly keeping its audience on their toes. To this day, the sheet blowing off the clothesline in broad daylight and showing a ghostly outline is one of the best scares in recent memory due to its genuine surprise. The Conjuring 3 moves sedately from one set-piece to another, never threatening to scare outside of these moments, numbing its audience into boredom when the scares are attempted.
Whatever you think of the real-life Warrens practices, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have crafted a very convincing relationship to guide us through paranormal horrors over the years. They have brilliant chemistry, and their ability to sell the trust and love they have for one another is the reason why they’re so successful at what they do in-universe. This film attempts to explore them deeper by showing us how they met all those years ago, but sadly it’s nothing we didn’t already know; for all the franchise has brought to us, Ed and Lorraine have grounded all of their films into the realm of believability because of how well they’re portrayed by Wilson and Farmiga respectively. The Conjuring 3 does nothing to add to their impressive legacy, but it thankfully does nothing to damage it either.
The Devil Made Me Do It has a tremendous premise behind it, using a real life murder case where the defence claimed demonic possession is brilliant on paper, but beyond its set up, it never successfully becomes an investigative mystery. There’s an element of Primal Fear to it that could have and certainly should have been utilised far better, whether by calling into question the innocence of the suspect, or by causing Ed and Lorraine to question their own demonic beliefs, but The Conjuring 3 cares not for such potential intrigue and focuses just on the elements that make it a horror film.
By attempting to balance so much into one film – true crime, Ed and Lorraine’s relationship, telling its demon story – The Devil Made Me Do It fails to successfully execute any of its main features. Were it not for the reliability of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, I would be hard pressed to find any truly redeeming features in it. Despite its impressive opening sequence, and there is one enjoyable scene in a morgue, The Conjuring 3 fails to deliver anywhere close to the terror it so impressively did in the previous The Conjuring films. Thank you for the memories, James Wan, Patrick Wilson, and Vera Farmiga, but it’s time to exorcise this franchise for good.
The Conjuring The Devil Made Me Do It is available in cinemas now.