The original Conjuring movie was a breakout hit that relied on James Wan’s old-fashioned jump-scares and a bit of heart. It didn’t hurt that the main characters, Ed and Lorraine Warren, were real people, with controversial careers that moviegoers can still debate. You can imagine my surprise when this latest entry, The Devil Made Me Do It, teased us with a courtroom setting where the Warrens may’ve had to debate that demons exist before a judge and jury. It didn’t happen. Misdirection is fine if you have something else to back yourselves up with, but this latest entry in the franchise seems to stumble more than walk with confidence toward its climax.
With prominent nods to The Exorcist, the movie opens with the Warrens (Vera Farmiga & Patrick Wilson) assisting in the exorcism of a child named David Glatzel. His older sister is present along with her boyfriend Arne (Ruairi O’ Connor) . When the exorcism falters, Arne demands that whatever is possessing the boy take him instead. The madness stops. For a few days everything appears to be normal again. And then Arne begins seeing a figure, becoming disoriented, and is pushed to the edge by his landlord, Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins) whose name is changed from that of the actual victim.
These first thirty minutes are impressive. Young David begins to form into a human pretzel, claw marks rake the walls, and when Arne is getting ready to face trial, the Warrens convince his lawyer to use demonic possession as his defense. A great mixture of tension and humor is at work here. Following a heart attack, Ed is cast more in shadow than Lorraine and we wonder what toll this case will have on the couple. This is where the movie shines. The actors remain committed and give us a way into the world they inhabit.
And then the movie starts unraveling. It was as if a tight script had been replaced with a pile of notes and increasingly disappointing jump-scares that felt more like obligations instead a celebration of fun or menace. This film is determined to step away from the haunted house route but loses the normal mapping that goes into those sorts of movies where each scare is carefully constructed, often with models of the house used to nail the timing of what we’re seeing. The haunted house is gone in this film, but sadly the timing is too and the scares aren’t as effective. Am I just fatigued by this universe? Honestly, no. The Conjuring 2 was a fun ride that held off bringing the protagonists into the main story until an hour had passed. It took chances with breaks for a delightful singing session and an array of scary new creatures. The same can’t be said here.
Although not the film itself, I will bring up marketing. The greatest moments have been on our screens for months and the scares that weren’t are more silly than anything. I also have to note the antagonist. I saw the movie twice to confirm, but unlike previous ghoulish characters (Valak, Annabelle) this is a human putting our characters through such trials. I don’t blame the actress, but rather the fact that the backstory is so basic and unmoving. Should we care? Should we be annoyed that the movie took time to explain the most basic points without trying to indulge our curiosity? Human antagonists are better served by having motives.
If this universe is to continue, as I hope it does, I hope the filmmakers have more motives for what they do in the creepy department. The love story between Ed and Lorraine is more than satisfying. And with both our main actors committed to appearing throughout the movie, I only saw this as a missed opportunity and a mid-level score at best.
Follow HorrOrigins Social Media