Director: Michael Chaves
Notable Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Shannon Kook, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Keith Arthur Bolden
With almost $2 billion dollars in the box office now, The Conjuring Universe has solidified itself as one of the premiere horror franchises in history. What started as Wan’s love letter to 70s supernatural horror has become a lucrative money-making machine that has spawned far more spin-offs than entries into the original series. The quality of these entries varies, often to a shocking extent, but one thing about the series is that it always finds a way to entertain - even if the whole product is flawed.
The latest entry into the series, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, is now the third of the original series and finally catching up to its spin-off series, Annabelle, in quantity. This entry represents a deviation from its two predecessors in a few ways, most notably in that James Wan has stepped away from the director’s chair, but it’s not one that completely abandons the core values for a slightly more convenient approach. Certainly, The Devil Made Me Do It is not the efficient and tightly crafted modern classic one might hope, but it’s also not the wild misfire it might have been.
Replacing James Wan in the pilot’s seat for this entry is Michael Chaves, notable for music videos and his “is this part of The Conjuring Universe...or not?” film, The Curse of La Llorona. It’s immediately evident that it’s a different director this time around. While Chaves does an admirable job in recreating the Wan look and tone, the film lacks that elevated sense of cohesion and finely tuned balance of fear and heart that made the original two such effective pieces of horror cinema. Chaves hardly fucks it up, particularly since Wan remains on as a producer and a co-writer for the film, but the overall product just feels a few shades thinner.
When Chaves is on top of it, he delivers some entertaining horror. A Carrie-type shower sequence with a young boy being stalked by an invisible force, the initial murder sequence in a dog boarding house that kicks off the larger investigation, and a tornado inspired exorcism of the opening are all fun and quirky sequences that showcase a bit of diversity in tone, tension, and approach to horror in the film. It’s not quite the series of iconic moments of subtlety that one might expect from the series, but it’s still effective and fun.
The plotting, where the Warrens must investigate a demonic possession of a young man that drives him to kill another man, is the biggest deviance for the series. It attempts to follow the now traditional dual narrative, focusing on the family and then the Warrens, but since the demonic possession jumps characters and is puppeteered by an unknown force, a kind of ‘occultist’ that serves as the film’s villain, this film further leans into being an investigative procedural. Quite frankly, the change is refreshing. It ends up sacrificing a bit of the heartfelt connection for an audience to relate to the unfortunate people burdened by demonic events, but change - even when it’s not quite as effective - does not necessarily equate to bad and The Devil Made Me Do It does an admirable job at delivering on it.
Once again, the true soul of The Conjuring universe belongs to Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, portraying the loving fictional version of the Warrens. While the film doesn’t quite find that moment of purity like the Elvis song sequence from The Conjuring 2, it still anchors all of the events on their relationship which continues to impress. Their performances remain solid, even if their rotating secondary cast is more fleeting this time around - including a strangely absent daughter character. Their work in the film and their characters remain the beating heart of why this series works so effectively.
All in all, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a solid addition to the franchise. Sure, it never reaches the heights of the first two, not quite as bold even with its own newer approaches, but it’s still an entertaining and foundationally solid film that will appease fans. The performances work, the individual scare moments are fun - particularly in some of the homages that Chaves throws down to classic horror films, and the overall mystery is refreshing. It’s also a film with a far more muddled script, lacking the nuance and balance of its predecessors, and it comes off as a bit cheesier overall. In the entirety of The Conjuring Universe, The Devil Made Me Do It is not upper echelon, but it’s also not the misfire that initial reactions claimed it to be.
If anything, I hope it sets up a larger plot with its occult elements (which tie directly to the origins of the Annabelle series) for further sequels. If they can conjure that up, I’m willing to ride along.