What have Ed & Lorraine Warren gotten themselves into this time? The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It boldy veers into a new direction in which the now infamous duo become the focus of the movie instead of characters sidelined by supernatural shenanigans. The tone is different, as is the structure and pace. It succeeds mainly because of the two stars, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, but there's still plenty of frightful sights to behold.
For fans of The Warrens or those who have read their book The Demonologist (last published in 2013), the movie’s approach may feel familiar. We are thrown right into the helstrom of an exorcism in the first breathtaking moments of the film, and then it switches gears into a dark, forbidding mystery. The foe this time is quite different and finally fully embodies the conjuring of the title. I was never quite sure where it was going, and it’s a fascinating take on the “devil made me do it” case (and thankfully not a courtroom drama).
Instead the screenplay gives us more insight into Ed & Lorraine, the obstacles of their everyday lives (remember your heart pills!), and especially Lorraine’s powers of sight. By 1981, when this film is set, the Warrens had been investigating cases for over 30 years. Lorraine comes across as much more pithy and frustrated, and Ed feels much older, less virile and even more crotchety. While the film doesn’t say this case was from late in their career, you can very much feel the exhaustion. There’s also a very omnipresent acknowledgement of their Catholic faith, which was very important to the Warrens, but too much religious talk can get divisive.
This change in approach from the two previous movies does make it an overall less scary film, but perhaps a more personal and interesting movie. This depends on how you feel about the Warrens, two middle-aged people who fight demons, allegedly. It’s likely not what most horror enthusiasts have been waiting for but there are plenty of frightful sights to appease Conjuring Universe fans. Strangely though, there's no new Annabelle, nun or Crooked Man-like demon to spin off into another film.
Director Michael Chaves who last helmed 2019’s lackluster The Curse of la Llorona, takes over for James Wan and does a fair job with heightened style but muddy, indistinct staging that is difficult to follow. If the scene goes into mostly darkness and no sound, it forecasts something is about to happen. There’s almost no tension, and it ruins any sense of dread. There’s also some terrible editing decisions with scene transitions that fade to black rather than finding a natural point of progression. These technical gripes aside, it’s overall a good looking film and the art direction certainly goes overboard creating fully realized sets and mayhem.
At the center of the Conjuring Universe is The Warrens, and this third film is the most personal yet. It succeeds because of the heart and spirit the cast, and it’s a classy horror film with a feel good message. I’m not sure that’s commonly found in the genre so I’ll take it where I can find it.