Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Chaves
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Eugenie Bondurant, Julian Hilliard, Shannon Kook, Sterling Jerins, John Noble, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Steve Coulter, Sarah Catherine Hook.
The case files of psychic investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson respectively) have provided plenty of spooky fodder for the horror series created by filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell. The successful franchise has so far yielded a couple of passable sequels and a spin-off series featuring Annebelle, the possessed doll, as well as giving us The Nun amongst other stand-alone efforts. The Devil Made Me Do It, the third film in The Conjuring franchise, is again based on a true story from the Warrens’ case files.
The film is set in 1981 in the small town of Brookfield. Lorraine and Ed witness the exorcism of a young boy – eleven-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) – who has been possessed by a demon. During the exorcism Ed suffers a heart attack and the evil demon leaps into the body of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (played by Ruariri O’Connor, from Handsome Devil, etc).
Later on, Arne brutally murders his girlfriend’s annoying and sleazy landlord Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins) by stabbing him twenty-two times. Ed and Lorraine set out to defend Arne by proving that he was possessed by a demon at the time of the killing. This is a novel defence that has never been tried before in a US court. The Devil Made Me Do It is supposedly based on one of the toughest cases investigated by the Warrens, one that put them both in great personal danger. The overwrought climax moves between the imprisoned Arne’s battle against the evil force that has possessed him and the Warrens’ battle with the evil occultist (Eugenie Bondurant) who is manipulating events.
Writers David Leake Johnson-McGoldrick (a regular collaborator with James Wan who has worked on Aquaman and The Conjuring 2, etc) and series creator Wan have moved away from the haunted house scenario of the first two films and moved the material in a slightly different direction. This time around the film involves demonic possession, and this is actually the second film to deal with the infamous Brookfield murder and controversial trial. They have taken enormous liberties in an effort to beef up the horror elements and supernatural stuff, and a massive suspension of disbelief is required. Undoubtedly there are some elements of truth in the narrative – for example, Lorraine using her clairvoyant abilities to lead the police to the location of a dead body – but a lot of the supernatural nonsense with demons and ancient curses is hard to swallow.
Wan has established a reputation with his work in the horror genre, and he has also developed a distinctive visual style. But here he has passed the baton to director Michael Chavez who previously gave us the 2019 horror film The Curse Of La Llorona, but while he has a good understanding of the tropes of the genre, his direction is not as forceful nor as stylish as that of Wan. He does include a number of jump scares and has created an uneasy visual aesthetic. An early scene of Father Gordon arriving to conduct the exorcism is a clear reference to the classic The Exorcist.
There is some atmospheric cinematography from Michael Burgess who makes good use of shadows and darkened interiors to heighten the suspense in some scenes, and the grim lighting is unsettling and moody. There is some nice production design from Jennifer Spence. Regular composer Joseph Bishara adds another evocative and sinister score.
Reprising their familiar roles Farmiga and Wilson are again solid as the Warrens, who are severely tested by what they experience this time around. Their investigation into spooky events gives the film something of the vibe of The X- Files. Over the course of several films working together they have developed a nice rapport and an easy-going relationship, and they ground the series with their strong emotional bond. In a more physically demanding role as the possessed Arne, O’Connor makes for a sympathetic character. Bondurant makes for a suitably creepy antagonist.
While not the strongest entry in the Conjuring franchise, there is still more than enough here to satisfy fans of the series and make it worth a look.
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