You got to hand it to director James Wan. The guy knows how to churn out a great horror flick and his direction behind the first two installments of both the “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” franchises prove that. Not to mention his work on the first “Saw” film or even his excellent work out of the horror genre, with “Death Sentence” and “Furious 7”. The “Saw” films went on without Wan behind the camera from part two and on. Not all were great, but the replacement directors were competent of making a decent film. Wan also didn’t return for “Insidious 3” and “Insidious: The Last Key”, which were big mistakes because both films were both below subpar from the first two.
Now that brings us to “The Conjuring”. I hold James Wan’s “The Conjuring 2”, to be that rare sequel that easily outdoes it’s original predecessor. I hold it high upon my list as one of the greatest sequels. Here we are five years since James Wan directed “The Conjuring 2” and even though he continues to produce each new sequel or spin-off and occasionally earns a “story by” credit.
After getting delayed due to the pandemic, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is making it’s premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is the eighth entry into the so-called Conjuring Universe (that includes “Annabelle” and “The Nun”), but the third film within “The Conjuring” films itself. Once again Wan opted not to return for this third installment due to apparent scheduling conflicts and that absence is felt throughout the entire production.
Although director Michael Chaves (director of “The Curse of La Llorona”) benefits from tight production values and the still excellent pairing of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” lacks anything special and is sorely missing that James Wan filmmaking vision.
Like the first two “Conjuring” films. “The Devil Made Me Do It” is based on one of the supposed 4,000 real cases conducted and investigated, by Ed and Lorraine Warren. In “The Devil Made Me Do It”, it’s 1981 and the Warrens are taking part in an exorcism intended to purge the body and soul of David (Julian Hilliard), an eight year old boy. The Warrens are now veterans of the haunting scene and at the climax of the films stellar exorcist opening, Lorraine asks a traumatized Ed if he’s feeling all right and he says, “I just can’t remember one quite like this”, now we know that something’s up.
The sequence presents a case of possession by the devil, but it seems as if this devil is not exactly…a devil. Little David talks in a devil voice, he contorts his limbs the way Linda Blair’s did in the famous spider-walk outtake from “The Exorcist”. But when Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), the boyfriend of David’s sister, stares into David’s face and dares the demonic spirit to leap out of the boy’s body and into his own, the spirit complies. And according to the Warrens, who are the world experts in the subject, the devil doesn’t just do that. It’s just not his style.
Arne and Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), who are now about to get engaged, are hanging with their landlord, who turns up dead after Arne stabs him 22 times. He is arrested and put on trial, in what seems to be a clear-cut case of murderous madness. But the Warrens were there at the exorcism and saw the body hopping exchange. As Arne stands up in court, the Warrens are ready to help him prepare a case in which he’ll say, “The devil made me do it”.
The third film makes the shift away from the haunted house formula that surrounded the first two “Conjuring” movies. Instead it goes for a more investigative and courtroom genre, but keeping with the possession angle as Ed and Lorraine bring that lovey dovey schmaltz to the case. A good chunk of the film is concerned with commemorating their 30-year relationship, showing how they fell in love, how much they are still in love and how much their love will just never die. In “The Devil Made Me Do It”, the two come the closest to a marital tiff as we’ve seen them. Witnessing Ed and Lorraine who, can’t seem to agree on the nature of the force they’re fighting. These two are so likable that you don’t want them to fight and you’d rather just have them curl up in bed and read to each other the Book of the Dead. Despite the many problems facing “The Devil Made Me Do It”, both Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are reliably terrific as the Warrens and that’s been apparent from the very first film.
On the horror front, however, “The Conjuring 3” is sorely lacking. After it’s “Exorcist” inspired pre-title sequence the film settles into a frustratingly dull, bland, soulless mood. Director Chaves can’t get the rest of the film anywhere close to the peak of his opening set piece. Shot in gloomy dark brown tones, “The Devil Made Me Do It” is the most somber and least aggressive of the “Conjuring” films.
It’s lacking the skill of James Wan, who is sorely missed behind the camera. While Chaves has some appealing images, his attempts to craft sequences like the master James Wan is, just ends up feeling like a straight to video effort at best. Wan’s strength was always to let the camera linger and let the audience fill in the blanks. Instead Michael Chaves is preoccupied with focusing on contorting bodies and distorting the perception of the viewers. Chaves has no gut punch to his scares, not only because he isn’t skilled like James Wan. But because, unless it’s the Warrens then we don’t get to know any of his characters that are being affected by the occult forces.
“The Conjuring 2” rules this cinematic universe and still stands as one of the best sequels ever made. But “The Devil Made Me Do It”, just doesn’t work and should be renamed, “The Conjuring: Why Did You Even Make This Movie”. Either James Wan comes back to direct “The Conjuring 4”, or it’s best that the Warrens just call it quits. I’d happily sit and rather watch the Warrens alphabetise their room of cursed objects, than have to sit through “The Conjuring 3” again. Not even “The Devil Could Make Me Do It”.
GRADE: ★☆☆☆☆ (1 out of 5)