The Third ‘Conjuring’ Has New Unholy Tricks Up Its Sleeve (Movie Review)


Another week, another horror sequel. Say what you will about the quality of The Conjuring Universe’s eight entries (if you count The Curse of La Llorona), at the very least, they originated from a strong debut that completely worked as a stand-alone film. Now, the ever-expanding series returns with our favorite ghost hunter duo in the non-numbered third entry, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. This time the Warren’s will need to use sleuthing skills too, as what exactly is happening is not entirely clear. Thankfully, right when you think the formula might get stale, this third iteration is something else. Still, with James Wan out of the director’s chair, is The Curse of La Llorona‘s Michael Chaves ready to invoke that which lingers in the dark?


Set in 1981, five years after the events of The Conjuring 2, the Warrens have several cases under their belt, er, rosary. Like the Scream series, each film begins with a “pre-show” of sorts that deals with some kind of possession that Ed and Lorraine must tackle. Devil is no different, except this time, the characters we meet will be the focus of the entire story (as opposed to the coeds that took Annabelle or the Lutz’ in Amityville).

The primo possession involves a young boy named David (The Haunting of Hill House‘s Julian Hilliard) who is contorting up a storm, literally. Soon enough, his older sister’s boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), pulls a Father Karras, as in “Take me!!” to whatever is inside David to enter himself. As you can guess, this doesn’t go well.

So far, this is pretty standard Conjuring, but this is really just a jumping-off point. The heart of The Devil Made Me Do It, as the name implies, focuses on tabloid 80s fodder: Satanic killers who blamed Beelzebub for their deeds. This could be a rather sensitive subject to handle as many real-life killers, i.e., the Son of Sam, used similar excuses (“my dog told me to do it”) at their trials. I’d opt for not delving too deeply to find any meaning or any kind of statement. Cults and the like have been used in this series before, after all.

The best part of this entry are simply the performances of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren. Three films in, and they truly inhabit the demon battling married couple with the right amount of warmth, determination, and humor. Great choices are often what makes a line reading memorable and these two pretty much nail it every scene. Even though I always enjoy how the duo seems to know exactly what’s happening within a few minutes on a case (“first off, demons can’t possess dolls…”), it’s refreshing to see them perplexed by a sudden, gruesome murder scene. Moreover, the “who” this leads to is quite menacing – although she does feel a tad like Nun 2.0.

What works best here is taken (I’d like to think) from Rian Johnson’s excellent The Last Jedi. Remember when Rey and Kylo did the Force FaceTime thing? Lorraine gets to do that here. The shift in POV and locations resulting from this “connection” between Lorraine and another effectively ratchets up the suspense.

Sadly, the weakest sections are focused on the new family. David is fine (although Hilliard had way more to do in Hill House), the sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) is forgettable, and Arne is nothing special. None of these performances are bad per se, but the writing of their characters does them no favors.

On the plus side, the always engaging John Noble shows up for a few important scenes. Noble could eat cereal, and I’d be enthralled (I think he actually did that on an episode of Fringe). No film where John Noble and Vera Farmiga discuss translating a Satanic tome from the original Aramaic is not worth a look.

I haven’t seen Chaves’ Curse of La Llorona, but I was a huge fan of his music video for Billie Elish’s “Bury A Friend.” There was a lot of creepy imagery, nice camera rotations, and an otherworldly-ness I assumed would make him a good fit for a Conjuring film. However, the results in Devil are less the visuals Chaves impressed me with, in that video, and more like him trying to keep the Wan-vibe present. It makes sense for continuity in the three movies, but his use of color and art direction are more muddled compared to Wan’s.

Case in point: one of my favorite features of the first two Warren adventures was how well Wan used each family’s homes. In the first film, the Perron’s farmhouse was new to them, so that provided a good excuse for the kids to check out every room… like the basement, for a game of hide and clap. In the sequel, the four children of the Hodgson’s are quite familiar with their dingy London flat. Wan made that work as well, as Janet wakes in the middle of the night on the living room floor and, instantly, she knows something is up. I could go on, but you get my point, haunted house movies rely on audiences to understand not just geography but how spatial relations factor in when a character hopes to avoid something unnatural from pulling off a comfy blanket.

The third film is mostly hopping from place to place. We sort of get the look and feel of a correctional facility, but it’s pretty nominal. Only two locations really stand out: a secluded forest and an out-of-the-way home near a river. Still, we’re never really given a proper amount of time to understand these places.

For the story that Devil is telling, it’s not really a big problem though. As noted, by far, the strongest aspect is going along for the ride as Ed and Lorraine piece together who or what is causing such horrors on Arne and little David. And, as mentioned, it’s certainly a different way to approach a Conjuring film. Hats off to writers Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick for taking a case from the Warren files that isn’t just another possession tale. I do wish Chaves added more of his own flourishes, but it mostly works visually.

As a kind of one-off, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a perfectly serviceable entry. It’s not a mess like The Nun, but it’s a long way from the artistry of the first two films. I appreciate not relying on a formula even if newer characters (mostly) fail to leave an impression. As played by Wilson and Farminga, my affection for Ed and Lorraine is still quite strong though. So here’s hoping a future installment finds a better balance of scares and storytelling.

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