MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Horror/Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, 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, Stella Doyle, Mitchell Hoog, Megan Ashley Brown/Runtime: 112 minutes
I think it should be said that when it comes to the various narrative hooks that movies utilize in order to get audiences’ behinds in seats to give them a watch, the one that audiences are perhaps most common with is “based on a true story”. Indeed it is this angle that a lot of horror fans since 2013 at least have been familiar with since it is an essential component to the series of films that have come to be known as The Conjuring Universe. In all fairness though in the case of these films I guess I should also add that your proverbial grain of salt with which you treat how true these stories are should be upgraded to the size of the boulder Willie Coyote constantly uses to get the Road Runner with in Looney Tunes. Jokes aside, the fact remains that Ed and Lorraine Warren were a real couple who really did make their way in the world as a pair of self-taught paranormal investigators/experts in the occult and yes how legit what they did is up for debate, but at the end of the day the cases they were involved in do make for wonderful things to make some truly scary movies out of. This is because the cases that made up the first 2 main entries in this series from 2013 and 2016 respectively were cases that were rather restricted to just one locale, dealt with purported hauntings and possessions, and utilized by film helmer James Wan as a wonderful base for narratives that tried to then make the claim that demonic entities and genuine evil were things that were legitimate in this world. At the same time it also didn’t hurt that there wasn’t any wide amount of fallout in the wake of these events thus giving the audience to enjoy them as simple haunted house movies or something to that effect. With that being said, the third main film in this series that is The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is not a film that functions in that manner. Yes Wan (who both produced and helped come up with the narrative) and film helmer Michael Chaves do try to have this sequel be something different in the form of it being more like CSI with a paranormal bent to it rather than the haunted estate we’ve seen twice now, but there are some distinct choices that are done with this film’s narrative that seriously thwart it from working on the same level as the first two. Yes there is still quite a bit that does work, yes Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are top-flight as usual, and yes there are a fair amount of scares to be enjoyed here, but this is still a little bit of a step down due to not being as cohesive as it ought to be.
The plot is as follows: Set about a good solid 5 years in the wake of the 2nd installment and transitioning our paranormal expert duo into that iconic time that is the Go-Go 80s, The Conjuring 3 is distinct in that we walk in pretty much seemingly near the end of a case rather than at the beginning. It soon becomes apparent that our dynamic supernatural investigating couple has been for a while before the film proper trying to aid a young boy by the name of David Glatzel who has tragically been taken over by what appears to be a demonic influence and who, when the movie truly begins, is getting some officially sanctioned help straight from the Church by means of that delightful staple of these kinds of horror films known as an exorcism. Things go terribly wrong during the ceremony however to the point that not only does it result in Ed having to be rushed to the hospital due to a heart attack, but we also see that a young man present by the name of Arne Johnson who also happens to be the child’s sister’s boyfriend honorably makes the decision, against Ed’s advice, to challenge the evil entity to possess him instead and thus leave David the heck alone. Of course, it should come as no surprise then to learn that sometime later, this entity decides to take Arne up on his offer and as a result, the kid winds up brutally murdering his landlord and taken into custody when he is discovered in a daze and his shirt covered in blood. Of course the prosecutor seeing this as a cut and dry case of murder in the first degree wants to put the kid to death, but thankfully the Warrens take up the kid’s defense knowing he is not the party guilty for this heinous crime. Thus we see that they are able to successfully get Arne’s attorney to champion a history-making plea of not guilty by reason of demonic possession. Yet now that the plea has been entered, it is now up to our dynamic duo to find a way to prove it. A journey incidentally that will see them embark on a terrifying voyage down one of the most frightening rabbit holes they have ever gone down in either their professional or personal lives….
Now it is in regards to the aspect of having to find evidence within the plot description that is where this slice of cinematic pie runs into a few stumbling blocks. That’s because the idea that is being presented is that Ed and Lorraine have a finite amount of time to find evidence to present in court in order to show that Arne is not guilty of what he is being accused of. Yet the problem with that is there isn’t really any component of said investigation that can be utilized for that purpose. I mean yes the movie goer knows that the cinematic Arne is innocent of what he is being accused because not only is it established fairly early on, but also because of this cinematic world operates. At the same time though, this slice of cinematic pie completely and utterly pushes aside the legal angle in the narrative whenever it is not at a courthouse or talking to an attorney and there is also not one thing the Warrens discover that I feel could have been legally showcased for a jury to consider. I mean rather than trying to find proof that Arne was possessed, this slice of cinematic pie is more content with retooling the question to become “who is the agent responsible for the possession to happen in the first place?” Yes this does contribute a wonderful framework as well as a haunting mystery that has some fairly well done wrinkles, but that’s also because those aspects are products of a creative mind that have no link to the real events that occurred….or at least as far as we know. Be that as it may be, when the time arises for the overarching narrative to be wrapped up, its interlocking with how things actually happened results in a misfire that sadly damages the rest of this movie as well.
Now although The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has a resolution that is perhaps not on par with the first two, it still is a quite riveting horror movie until it gets to that point. Indeed the idea of having our dynamic paranormal duo look for clues that seem to point to a bigger cover-up of sorts not only is quite the refreshing change of pace, but it also allows us to see our characters get put through the wringer in ways that are delightfully distinct. Best of all, it still gives the film quite a few moments where it can wonderfully scare the heck out of you. Indeed he may have had some giant loafers to fill due to the work done by James Wan, but film helmer Michael Chaves does a wonderful job of improving significantly on the work he did in his other entry in this film series and manages to give us some moments that I promise will send a chill or 5 down your spine including a look back at when David was first possessed, a potent flashback that Lorraine is able to witness, and a moment while Arne is on suicide watch that I promise you will have on the edge of your seat in the best way possible and then some. Yet whilst the key angle to these movies as previously stated is the fact that they are purportedly “based on a true story”, the thing that genuinely keeps you invested is the powerhouse performances by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine. Indeed not only do they show off a phenomenal degree of charisma as well as a seemingly genuine and integral sense of realism, but their chemistry together is just otherworldly. Indeed a huge component for why the main Conjuring movies work is because of how much care and love there is between Ed and Lorraine and suffice it to say this installment manages to be just further proof of that in the best way possible.
All in all I think it is quite safe to say that should you wish to look at this series as a collection of peaks and valleys that the slice of cinematic pie that is The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is one that manages to function as one that is the most middle of the road out of any of the installments made to date. This is because whilst it doesn’t exactly reach the peak that both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 from 2013 and 2016 respectively were able to obtain, it also is leaps and bounds a better slice of cinematic pie than a few of the spin-offs that have been made as well (I’m looking at you Curse of La Llorona and Annabelle from 2014). Indeed in many respects, this slice of cinematic pie is one that unfortunately seems to be stricken with the common movie ailment of reaching for something it isn’t quite fully able to get a solid grip especially when it tangos all over the degree of consideration that is perhaps essential when operating with a narrative that does deal with a brutal murder that actually happened. Thankfully, this void is at least filled with a fair degree of frights and some dependably wonderful work from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the lead roles thus resulting in a film that whilst not great is still a worthy addition to both the franchise at large and your own personal horror movie collection to be chilled by time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It a solid 3.5 out of 5.