The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The latest in the horror-share universe is a stale and disappointing affair
The Conjuring (2013) revitalized a stale horror genre that had devolved into reboots of 80s classics (Friday the 13th (2009), Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)) or the remakes of foreign horror films (The Ring (2002) and Quarantine (2008)). James Wan was able to infuse 2013 with both The Conjuring and the solidly terrifying Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013). His sequels to each maintained a level of terror creativity that continued to invigorate the genre. Unfortunately, as Hollywood does with many successes, it has now become milked and franchised to death. Insidious faltered after diminishing returns, and the Conjuring series has become fixated in its spinoffs with The Nun (2018) and three Annabelle movies. Wan, no doubt seeing the creative fatigue in the franchise, has decided to step aside and thus this third Conjuring movie is the first not helmed by the Australian.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) is the latest film centering on real-life paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). In this film the couple investigate the 1981 case of Arne Cheyenne-Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), whose legal defense after a murder is that he was being possessed by the devil.
I have to say I was initially surprised and intrigued by seeing The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It moving into the space of a legal drama, perhaps trying to wrestle the surreal horror elements with the skepticism of an evidence-based court. However, this isn’t the case. Instead the film centers on Ed and Lorraine looking for proof of possession in order to help Arne avoid the death penalty. This makes them scour their home state of Massachusetts for similar cases and discover a potential satanic cult as the perpetrator.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is directed by Michael Chaves, who has big shoes to fill after Wan. The American is not new to the Conjuring cinematic universe, having directed the loosely-linked The Curse of La Llorona (2019). However, I wasn’t encouraged with his previous work (the rest of his resume is largely music videos); The Curse of La Llorona botched a colorful and terrifying folkloric subject and crammed it into an uninteresting haunted house flick. The character was much better handled in the Guatemalan film La Llorona (2019), relating it to military dictatorship and generational guilt. Chaves, unfortunately, brings his stale directing to The Devil Made Me Do It with unimaginative scares and a dull plot.
After bringing forth the terrifying imagery from the first two Conjuring films, and new characters such as the Nun and the Crooked Man; each film was also able to give off a sense of inescapability, where every frame carried tension and spookiness that made every character feel unsafe. Chaves uses wide shots, shoots mostly in daylight, and largely staves off of scares completely. When he does dig in to produce horror imagery, he largely stays to overdone and extremely predictable tropes of looking under a dark bed, peering through a hole in the wall, or the simple writhing of a possessed child. There are no original ideas and no sense of an aesthetic feel in the film, making the entire narrative feel like a dozed affair.
Chaves isn’t even able to bring forth exciting performances from previous standouts Wilson and Farmiga either. It seems that Chaves wanted to focus more on their romance in this film, and yet he brings out such one-note performances that the actors themselves seem bored and disappointed. Only newcomer O’Connor puts forth a strong performance, which only makes one grow more frustrated as his character is wasted on a wandering and disjointed plot.
It seemed that Chaves and Warner Bros. wanted to expand their cinematic horror universe from their common haunted house tropes to a more open world. The result, however, is a film that gives off no sense of dread or actual scares. In fact, the only moment approaching some sense of horror is when we hear the actual recordings from an exorcism the Warrens performed in the credits sequence. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a great example of the intersection of an unimaginative director and a spent-out franchise.