‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’- Film Review: The Third Installment Falls Short of Scares

What’s the Story: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) take on one of the most sensational cases of their careers after a cop stumbles upon a dazed and bloodied young man named Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) walking down the road. Accused of murder, the suspect claims demonic possession as his defense, forcing the Warrens into a supernatural inquiry unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third film and overall eighth installment in the iconic horror franchise. If we’re just talking about the actual Conjuring movies and not mentioning the various spin-offs in the universe, there’s nothing bad to say about them. The 2013 original remains one of the most memorable horror movies of the last decade, and its 2016 sequel proved itself to be an engaging sequel that offers more scares. Since I was a fan of both of them, was the excitement there for this? There should’ve been. I was all in for a third movie, but seeing how it wasn’t building much attention until two months ago and given the fact James Wan didn’t come back to direct, along with Hayes brothers (Chad & Cary) not writing a script based on another true story of the married couple, it was understandable this might’ve leaned on either side of the scale. When it comes to me in talking about The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, this will probably be like the child that won’t get the most attention out of the family. 

As always, the one thing that makes this series watchable comes from the performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, or as I call them, “The power couple of any horror franchise.” Not only do they still give it they’re all with each appearance with their excellent chemistry, but they’re also the beating heart of making their characters very easy to care for throughout and just worry something could happen to any of them with each movie. I love how this shows more how important their relationship is when they have to deal with haunting investigations after the next and know they have each other’s backs. The stakes are with them more so when Ed has a heart attack in the opening, which could happen again at a moment, or when Lorraine uses her unique abilities that could be pushing it in almost getting her killed in finding the answers they’re looking for.

Michael Chaves previously directed The Curse of La Lorona, which I haven’t heard good things about, and The Conjuring 2‘s co-writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick takes charge of the script here. With the combination of the Chaves’ directing and a cool story behind it, I feel that’s what made this sequel less than successful than some would’ve thought. This is no secret we have another sequel where it focuses on another true event, and I tend not to know much about the previous Warren cases since I want to be surprised with the outcome of them, whether or not things have been altered. So, it was a fascinating idea to take on the 1981 “Devil Made Me Do It” case since we rarely hear about possession causing violence and this being the first time the victim calms not guilty since he believes he was possessed. Assuming would like on the same wavelength of something like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the court case is just a way of setting up the Warrens trying to figure out the trace of how it can support Arne in court.

I’ll give Chaves and Michael Burgess’ cinematography for honestly making a gorgeous-looking that I didn’t expect from this universe. But it feels unimportant around that second act when it’s more of a mix between supernatural horror and a murder mystery, but not as memorable. Nothing is new wasn’t haven’t already experienced from previous entries, and that’s either going to make or break for those who have been with this for years. It was an engaging mystery first hearing about it; I didn’t think the script used that full potential wisely. There’s more attention on the Warrens, as expected than Arne, which was sort of bummer since it felt like his story is an afterthought when we are essentially on time is running out of trying to find evidence Arne didn’t do it, which that doesn’t have that much devotion to seeing what the Perron or the Hodgson families. That’s not to say O’Connor and Sarah Catherine Hook as Arne’s girlfriend Debbie gave poor performances, it’s just you don’t have any powerful connection for this couple when there’s not much to their characters. I also thought John Noble (Fringe) as Father Kastner was the best supporting player as this former priest who the Warrens ask to help while on their investigation and comes into the plot that was unexpected.

Maybe it was the fact I watched this on HBO Max at home instead of sitting in the theater where the atmospheric setting while watching a horror movie adds more tension, but personally, aside from the opening sequences, I just didn’t think this had the scariest moments I expected. The movie opens strong early with an exorcism that goes wrong that hooked me and it’s easy to see how the rest of the story traces after and it was almost like watching the climax. Nothing came close to delivering the same suspense found afterward when the scares were more formulaic. Someone can ask me what was a scene that will forever be trapped in your mind when it’s over. And there wasn’t a lot besides this sequence inside a morgue that wasn’t too bad. You can see where Wan’s direction was severely absent in this follow-up in how he executes his scares well without appearing predictable when it would not have a premise without it surrounding a haunted house again. At least he can use jump scares well enough where it still gets you. In here, you just have to remember the formula for how not to build up suspense to know how a scene will play out.

The fear before watching The Devil Made Me Do It was hoping it would not be a blemish in the trilogy, and while it wasn’t bad, this didn’t have the same spark as we’ve seen before. I’ve been waiting to get a good Conjuring movie for five years now, but it’s easy to see this is probably the third-best, though that’s isn’t saying much since it’s a mixed-bag movie, overall. Could this be fatigue since there have only been two good movies in this entire franchise? That could be the case. Nothing is stopping the studio from making more of these, but they have to get more inspirational individuals who know horror well to kick it back up.

Final Thoughts: The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It benefits from having great performances in Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens, but this third installment suffers from predictable scares and a story not as investing as its predecessors, making this, unfortunately, the weakest entry. There’s a strong chance I could go for a fourth movie, as well as horror fans, but seeing how this turned out to be an underwhelming sequel, something new needs to happen.

Grade: C+

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