THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (Michael Chaves). 112 minutes. Now streaming on digital platforms. Rating: N
You’ve got to have nerve – or just be foolhardy – to reference an iconic scene from a horror classic in the first few minutes of your film. But director Michael Chaves does just that when he shows an elderly priest getting out of a taxi and looking up at a house where capital-E Evil is apparently possessing a little child. Chaves’s Exorcist homage turns out to be a curse – in more ways than one.
This latest film in the increasingly disappointing Conjuring Cinematic Universe – and the third focusing on demonologist couple Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) – is loosely based on a 1981 trial in which the pair helped defend a young man named Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) of a murder charge by claiming he was possessed by a demon.
Not that this film is a courtroom drama – or even an exorcist film, for that matter. Is there even a demon involved? Despite a bunch of impressive pretzel-like body-twisting, spouting of Latin and dispensing of holy water in the film’s opening scenes, I’m still not sure. That’s one of the main problems with David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s head-scratching screenplay.
Arne’s girlfriend is Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), the sister of David (Julian Hilliard), the little child whose limbs were akimbo in that opening scene. Somehow, by mimicking yet another moment from The Exorcist, Arne takes on the evil that possessed David. And soon he kills someone (hence the trial) by stabbing him 22 times. But somehow when people read the bible in front of him, he doesn’t lose his shit.
So what’s going on? It’s up to Ed and Lorraine to investigate, crawling under houses, interviewing ex-priests, etc. Meanwhile, Arne is having a difficult time in prison since he’s seeing visions.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is possessed by several different movie genres: murder procedural, supernatural thriller and even, in the least convincing development, romance story. (I kept waiting for someone to shout out, “The power of love compels you!”) Characters who seem like key players soon disappear, however (what happened to Debbie and David’s concerned parents?). And significant details – like the number of times a victim is stabbed – are never explained.
What we’re left with are strong, committed performances by Farmiga and Wilson, who are much better than they need to be. Wilson spends most of the film hobbling around with a cane, since Ed is recovering from a (possibly demon-induced) heart attack. And Farmiga gets to sport some of the most matronly hair styles and blouses of her career (which match up with the real Lorraine’s wardrobe).
I’m sure their bank accounts, and not the devil, made them do it.