Audiences somehow forget director James Wan’s The Conjuring films are actually good. I blame this on the existence of spin-offs, namely Corin Hardy’s The Nun, and the underwhelming trilogy of Annabelle films. The third film in The Conjuring’s core trilogy, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It arrives finally after a long pandemic delay, and I walked into this film expecting a significant step down in the franchise, because James Wan is no longer directing. Michael Chaves, who directed the Conjuring universe spin-off The Curse of La Llorna helmed this one. And while I think this is somewhat lesser compared to the outstanding first two Conjuring films, there is still plenty to like here.
In 1981, demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are called upon to assist in the exorcism of an eight-year-old child who is possessed by something demonic. The demonic spirit or curse is passed along to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) during the exorcism and this leads to Arne murdering a friend while the demon is inhabiting him. The Warrens fight to prove existence of the devil to a court of law and save Arne from the death penalty. Along the way, Ed and Lorraine learn there are many more terrifying aspects of this case they hadn’t expected.
Okay, so I’ll address the elephant in the room here first – The Devil Made Me Do It feels more like a murder mystery than a straight-up scare-fest like the first two Conjuring films did. But I also don’t think that’s a bad thing. The well-executed jump scares are still very much intact, but the film is working very hard to keep the audience engaged in between scare set pieces. These movies are basically procedurals and the Warrens seem to have an almost infinite number of cases to work with, so theoretically these movies could go on forever. And this one makes me kind of hope they do. Arriving a week after the second A Quiet Place film, which is doing the exact same thing as the original, it’s refreshing to see a horror sequel try something different, and mostly pull it off.
I couldn’t really tell that James Wan wasn’t directing this, because his hands seem to still be all over this franchise and we have a lot of the lean, mean, efficient scares the first two films are known for. Michael Chaves is a visual effects guy who was given The Curse of La Llorna as a trial case for how well he can direct a film, and while that failed, this is certainly a step in the right direction. However, Wan seems to be ghost-directing this and Chaves still has no voice of his own as a filmmaker, so maybe Wan shouldn’t delegate the next one.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga continue to turn in very good work, and we’ve seen this duo onscreen so many times at this point, their chemistry has a lived-in quality that feels so warm and genuine, you’re more likely to overlook some of the film’s weaker points. Also, Farmiga is clearly enjoying the sheer volume of insane ruffled-neck blouses she gets to wear. Ruairi O’Connor, an actor I’d never seen before (in my head I kept calling him budget Lucas Hedges, except likable) is doing pretty impressive scared-out-of-his-mind work, definitely better than you’d expect from an actor you’ve never seen before. A lesser performance in this role would give the audience less reason to care about this character, and in the end, you do ultimately care about what happens to Arne.
The procedural nature to The Conjuring films can give the audience reason to not really care about what happens – you know nothing will kill our two leads and eventually the case comes to a climax even if it isn’t necessarily solved. Also there’s still that irritating Catholicism-as-a-superpower thing going on here. However, Farmiga and Wilson’s consistently engaging performances and a collection of mostly well-executed jump scares are enough to keep this film from going off the rails. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is an effectively spooky entry in this long-running franchise, and I would see as many of these as they wanted to make. Just no more spin-offs, please.