We’re well into the world and the lore of the Warrens. Ed and Lorraine, the fictional versions of the real-life paranormal investigators, have held our hands through some of the most terrifying haunts and spared would-be victims of demons using their skills and love. The third in the prime canon, (and the eighth in The Conjuring Universe) is here with some more of the same, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It tackles the grim case of Arne Johnson. The Warren’s (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) visit a farmhouse to assist in exorcising a demon from a young boy named David (Julian Hillard). When they’re seemingly bested by the beast, David’s boarding brother, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), offers himself to the demon as a vessel. With no one noticing how the ordeal concludes, they return to normal life expecting the sunshine and birds chirping ending has arrived.
But Arne, now in the arms of a demonic presence, kills the landlord and swears the devil made him do it. With the support of the Warren’s and his girlfriend, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), Arne intends to present his criminal defence as such. The Warrens set off on a path of discovering the nature of this curse and, in doing so, get incredibly close to the spirit in a way that puts them in the line of hellfire. Convincing skeptics and law enforcement on the way, they uncover connections to other mysterious deaths and the work of Satanist cults in bringing these horrors to life.
What jumps off from the exorcism platform is another installment in a familiar franchise. For those who find comfort in the demonic-techno-babble space, this movie will feel like haunted home. It follows a mostly similar formula to religious horror flicks, specifically its own franchise cohorts, but brings just enough freshness to the format to not feel like a rehash.
Director, Michael Chaves, has done a beautiful job taking enough of what James Wan did with the first two installments while still making this film is own. Wan is known for the resurrection of the jump-scare, perfecting it in this franchise and Insidious, and Chaves stays true to that style while forging his own path. He uses lighting, quick cuts, and spooky apparitions to keep the tone familiar enough while shedding the door-slam-jump-scares of his predecessor. Chaves nods at his cohorts, with a shot that feels plucked from The Exorcist, another reminiscent of Evil Dead, and moments that feel like The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It’s refreshing to allow other favourites to slip into a franchise that’s already created its own distinct tone. It’s hard to not miss Wan, but Chaves does a good job justifying bringing on fresh (rotting) meat. Wan is not completely absent, however, and has story credit along with screenwriter, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (who also worked with Wan on Aquaman and The Conjuring 2).
This franchise truly belongs in the warm embrace of Farmiga and Wilson who continue to excel. Everything is held together by their warmth and love, and it remains the thread and motivation that keeps everyone alive. Wilson’s concern for his wife’s well-being would make anyone clutch their own beating heart, and their relationship is never better exemplified than when Lorraine enters a dangerous tunnel and asks a concerned Ed to hold her purse.
Not to be outdone, O’Connor brings jarring physicality to his role as a young man possessed that is reminiscent of other religious horror flicks that force you to sympathize with an inability to eat, sleep, or quiet the voices. Hilliard (The Haunting of Hill House, WandaVision), though he doesn’t spend a tonne of time on screen, gives the dynamic and heartbreaking dual performance of a tiny demon and an adorable scamp. Thought you’ll be left begging for more, John Noble’s turn as a tortured former priest with a host of warnings for the Warren family, brings a subtle heartbreak to his role that makes him so much more than a walking exposition dump. Eugenie Bondurant as a slender apparition is a welcome addition to the long list of Warren adversaries. Truly, everyone is acting at their best which raises up this otherwise by-the-numbers possession story.
The pink goat in the room is the real-life story of Arne Johnson. The hook of these films has always been using the case files of the Warren’s, stories that have been adapted for lots of spooky favourites like The Amityville Horror and The Haunting in Connecticut. By taking on a more petrifying case, the stakes have been raised to a point where these characters are in impending danger. This time, the demons have taken human life, and the beloved believers are desperately trying to stop it from happening again. The addition of human antagonists pushes this franchise into a darker place which does just enough to revitalize the common premises woven throughout the universe.
The Conjuring opened the gates to tell us tales of hauntings, poltergeists, and demons that are based just enough in reality to make us think it could happen to us. By grounding the spooks in tales of love, they’ve put a spin on the familiar that makes us want to hug the paranormal investigator who plays guitar. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is another take on the same that breathes enough new life into the genre to avoid it ever becoming a rotting corpse.