Directed By: Michael Chaves, Written By: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & James Wan (story), Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor & Sarah Catherine Hook.
It’s been eight years since James Wan first unleashed The Conjuring into a world where fans of the horror genre had become jaded, and worn down by the constant barrage of torture porn (a subgenre that Wan, ironically, had helped create). While gore-hounds were lapping up every sequel to Saw and Hostel, the rest of us had grown cold and disenfranchised to the endless cycle of movies that only served to dispatch one boring character after another in the most horrific way possible.
For the many, like myself, The Conjuring was a breath of fresh air. This was a movie that, with no sex, gore or vulgar language, had still managed to land itself an R-rating, simply because of how scary it is. Not only is it scary, but The Conjuring stands out for having a good story and wonderfully fleshed-out characters, something that had been missing from other genre entries.
Since its release in 2013, The Conjuring has become a cinematic universe to rival that of Marvel, with the likes of the Annabelle Trilogy, The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona, and two sequels, The Conjuring 2, and this instalment, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. It’s the third film bearing The Conjuring name that I’ll be discussing today.
I should start by saying that I wasn’t blown away by The Curse of La Llorona. It wasn’t a bad film; it just felt crowbarred into the series. I mention this because Llorona director Michael Chaves is in the director’s chair, this time around as James Wan, director of parts 1 and 2, takes a step back, serving as producer, instead.
The Devil Made Me Do It takes a different route from its predecessors, moving away from the haunted house stories it’s known for, and working instead as a race against time, investigation to save a man from death row.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Arne Johnson, the story goes like this. After being arrested for brutally killing his landlord. Arne Cheyenne Johnson claimed he’d become possessed by a demon and that the evil inside him was to blame for his wicked-doings. Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. His tall-tale sounds as fishy as a plate of double fish and chips, eaten on a fishing boat on Grimsby docks while watching Finding Nemo.
Enter our heroes, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). They believe Arne, and with good reason. They just-so-happened to be at an exorcism when Ed, who was in the throes of a massive heart attack, witnessed the demonic entity entering Arne’s body. So, the demonologist duo set out to prove that Arne is innocent and that the Devil did indeed make him do it.
Having just mentioned the earlier exorcism, it’s time for my first criticism (there aren’t many, and they are nit-picky at best).
Anyone who sat through X-Men 2 (2003) might feel the same way I do. While it was a superb movie (possibly one of the best superhero films ever made), it suffers for one reason, only; its best scene comes right at the start of the film. The movie begins with Nightcrawler ‘bamfing’ his way around the Whitehouse, taking out secret servicemen, in an awesome display of teleportation effects, and the rest of the movie never quite tops it. X-Men 2 blows its wad right away, and TCTDMMDI does exactly the same thing. Like X-Men 2, it’s a fantastic film that never quite tops its opening scene.
The scene in question is a bone-breaking, visceral exorcism of a young boy. It’s a spectacular set-piece with some vicious contortionism and a wonderful homage to The Exorcist (1973) thrown in for good measure. The problem is that nothing that follows in the 112-minute runtime comes close to matching it.
My only other nit-pick is that, while Michael Chaves does a great job directing the movie, you can’t help but wonder what James Wan would have done with it. While there are a few frights to be enjoyed, none of them holds much weight against the scares of the previous two instalments. None are as effective or as perfectly timed as the ‘hide-and-go-clap’, or ‘Bathsheba on the wardrobe’ scenes from the first film, or the ‘Valak, portrait attack’ of the second. It’s this that makes Wan’s absence noticeable.
As I said, these are mere nit-picks. There was so much for me to love about this film. Mainly the chemistry of the lead characters. It doesn’t really matter what your opinion of the real Ed and Lorraine Warren is. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga make these characters their own. Their performances are what elevates The Conjuring movies above other scare-flicks. I have pretty much loved Vera Farmiga in everything I’ve seen her in, from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to Bates Motel. She is one of the most versatile and interesting actors currently working. Patrick Wilson brings a real likeable quality to his characters, and Ed Warren is no exception.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It dares to be different, and in many ways, it pays off. It reminded me, somewhat, of a feature-length episode of The X-Files.
If you go into this expecting a rehash of the first two films, then, of course, you’re going to be disappointed. I can happily state that I wasn’t. I only hope that there will be more to come from Farmiga and Wilson as Ed and Lorraine. There were, after all, plenty of case files to adapt.