'The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It' Is Entertaining Despite a Disappointing Lack of Haunted Toys Directed by Michael Chaves
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook
Published Jun 04, 2021Here's the thing about the Conjuring Universe: it's damn good at giving us terrifying monsters. A haunted doll, a burnt-out husk of a nun, a vengeful weeping bride — all these beings seem to be plucked from our collective imaginations, the stories that terrified us as kids, and have demonic lives breathed into them. This is why we like these movies; they confirm and validate the suspicions we've held for so long about the sinister lying right beneath the surface of the good. The stories belonging to this universe are excellent at fleshing out their monsters, showing how the switch flipped from good to bad — how a benign bride became diabolical, for example.
This is also why, when it comes to The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, you might be a bit disappointed. Too human by virtue of the Satanism running through its plotline, this third movie about paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) scans as a mystery thriller instead of a horror. It underwhelms in the scary department, taking you instead on a wild ride replete with loads of love and brilliant acting.
Now, don't get me wrong — some scary stuff does happen. The first act is stellar. The movie, helmed by The Curse of la Llorona director Michael Chaves, starts with the exorcism of eight-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) gone wrong. Ed and Lorraine call in a priest to perform the exorcism, because whatever is in David is too formidable for them to handle. Present are David's parents, his older sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), and Debbie's boyfriend Arne (Ruairi O'Connor). When the demon shows no signs of weakening or leaving David, Arne begs for it to enter him and spare the boy, and it does. The family thinks David is cured, unaware of what Arne has done — leading to Arne committing crimes while possessed, and Ed and Lorraine uncovered a wider Satanic curse.
It shouldn't surprise us anymore that Wilson and Farmiga are powerhouses. The chemistry between the two is palpable — Lorraine is warm toward Ed, her gazes and soft touch full of love, and Ed is protective of Lorraine in an adorable way. It's noticeable, too, that Wilson and Farmiga have gotten better and better in their portrayals of the Warrens, as they increasingly embody their characters.
O'Connor delivers a surprise performance as the young Arne; he steals the first half of the movie, and it's tempting to wish the plot followed his plight a little more closely. O'Connor is tall and broad but also gaunt, and he's brilliant to watch as he devolves into a possession. As an increasingly doomed Arne, his eyes roll with paranoia in their sockets, he stumbles over his own spindly legs, his cheeks hollow out, and the lines around his mouth tighten — but all the while he seems to maintain a level of innocence that makes you care for him more than you do for Debbie. That O'Connor is able to flesh Arne out with his physicality and boyish charm is remarkable.
All the best acting in the world can't save the lacklustre plot, though. We look to the Conjuring movies for stories of possession, but this one gives us Satanism, which pales in comparison. At the heart of the mystery is a person cursing other people for some unspecified reason — there are skulls, black candles and cauldrons — but ultimately, the movie leaves more questions unanswered than not. It neglects, presumably for a lack of time, to explain the motivation behind the curse, why particular victims are chosen, or even how the curse could have been cast.
What's more, the ultimate bad guy in this movie could be anyone until the point when it's not — this is to say, the ending seems ad hoc. A good horror movie has an element of mystery at its heart, and it should start sowing clues that lead to the discovery from the very beginning. In The Devil Made Me Do It, the first half, devoted as it is first to David and then to Arne, is divorced from the second half, which closes in on Ed and Lorraine.
Consequently, the focus of the film isn't the horror, it's the love. Because of an intensified focus on the Warrens in the second half, their love is what is imperilled and what needs saving — while Arne becomes and afterthought.
The visual scares are few and far between, but they are effective, for the most part. Movies from the Conjuring Universe are always lush and have a keen understanding of how to use the space in a frame to house horror. The Devil Made Me Do It is no exception. Spectres appear within waterbeds, behind windows in the periphery, and within the deep shadows of the infirmary that Arne is confined to. And as usual, these monsters don't dissipate after giving us a glimpse of their figure; rather deliciously, their ghastly faces are held by the camera, hounding characters unrelentingly until you, as a viewer, almost can't take it anymore.
The Devil Made Me Do It is disappointing as a Conjuring movie — but it's nevertheless a star-making vehicle for O'Connor, and is entertaining despite its lack of haunted toys. (Warner Bros.)