Any horror franchise reaches a point where fatigue begins to set in. At that point, either the film series reinvents itself and gets new life, or it doubles down and just limits its audience to hardcore fans. Then, there’s obviously the cases where franchises jump the shark. Now a trilogy, The Conjuring series is reaching that point. The first flick is great, while the sequel is almost shockingly good. On the other hand, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It loses a lot of what made the first two special. Now, it works as a horror film, by and large. However, the things that set the movies apart are largely gone.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It returns Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson to their roles as the Warrens. That’s notable, since the other main creative forces do not come back this time around (more on that later). What they saw in this one, other than substantial paydays, is up for debate, but perhaps they just enjoy these parts? To be fair, they do bring a palpable love to their relationship, which fright flicks rarely contain. They’re hardly the issue. It’s mostly in how the scares are presented, as we’ll get into later.
Once again, the film is based on a notorious case file from Ed and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga and Wilson). This time, it’s the Trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, which would come to be known as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case (hence the title). When we meet Ed and Lorraine, they’re in the midst of an exorcism of young David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). During that fight for his soul, Ed has a heart attack, but more ominously, the demon jumps to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor). The Warrens don’t know it, initially, but when they realize, it’s too late and Arne has committed a murder.
As the Warrens investigate the origins of the demonic possession, Arne goes on trial. Convincing his attorney to use demonic possession as a defense, they wind up in a race against time. Not only is his freedom and life on the line in court, Arne remains in danger due to a curse that was placed on him. The more that Ed and Lorraine look into this, the more dangerous things get. Facing off with a powerful witch, this could wind up being a case that has them in over their heads.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are their reliable selves, though Ruairi O’Connor delivers the more impressive work. Farmiga and Wilson are comfortable in these roles, so a new entry like O’Connor leaves more of an impact. His possession scenes are a little ridiculous, but watching the fear in his eyes does make a mark. As always, Farmiga gets more to do than Wilson, though the script does underserve them this time around. No one else in the cast leaves much of an impression, which is usually the case with this franchise.
James Wan hands over directorial duties here to Michael Chaves and it shows. Additionally, the writing here is by only David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, as opposed to sharing duties with Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes. The issue here is this Conjuring sequel just feels like another horror sequel. If anything, this is closer to Annabelle or The Nun, as opposed to The Conjuring or The Conjuring 2. Whereas the first two films leaned on in camera effects and building a sense of dread, there’s more computer generated effects and overt silliness on display. Basically, more is not necessarily better here. Now, that may not bug you one bit. If it doesn’t, this third installment is going to work for you. However, if it does, you may well feel like this series has run its course.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It will please less fussy horror fans. Anyone else? Well, that remains to be seen. Even fans of the franchise may be split, given how the focus is more on CGI and generic scares, as opposed to the low-fi work that was a hallmark of the first two. Hitting HBO Max and theaters tomorrow, you’ll have the opportunity to decide for yourself…