Ed and Lorraine Warren are back in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the latest instalment of James Wan’s horror franchise from director Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona). With The Conjuring franchise having branched off into spinoffs like Annabelle and The Nun, it has been a long five years since Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga starred as everyone’s favourite demonologist couple, and we reunite with them in 1981 Massachusetts.
The Conjuring 3 tackles one of the Warrens’ most high-profile cases, that which concerned the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (played by Ruairi O’Connor), who was the first man in US history to plead “not guilty” to the murder of his landlord by reasons of demonic possession. That historic court case is sometimes referred to as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case, lending the film its full title.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It breaks from the haunted house tradition that defined its predecessors and blends its classic horror roots with an investigation narrative, broadening the story’s scope and weaving in a number of side plots. This decision unfortunately causes the film to lose much of its sense of claustrophobia and nerve-shredding tension, which was one of the foundational strengths of the earlier entries.
Even the goriest scares can’t quite match the horror of the first two films, failing as they do to creep under the skin – though Chaves, aided by brilliant cinematographer Michael Burgess and Joseph Bishara’s eerie score, ensures that gore hounds will leave the theatre satisfied. The scares might be predictable and lacking some of that shock factor, but they are unarguably well-executed – case and point, the extended opening scene offers a delicious homage to The Exorcist, with a truly terrific performance from Julian Hilliard.
The diverging storylines also mean the audience is allowed time to breathe, away from the movie’s horror elements – which then requires more work on the viewers’ part to actively buy into the supernatural dimension of the case. And though the Warrens’ encounters with various cynics (chiefly among them, a lawyer and detective) work well to elicit the film’s few laughs, The Devil Made Me Do It still struggles to weave the realism of its procedural framework with its horror elements. The ensuing lack of cohesion and focus causes the story to stall in the second act, leading to an unconvincing and anti-climactic conclusion.
Meanwhile, Wilson and Farmiga are as engaging and charming as ever, once again asserting that for all the horror and sinister tales, the ghost hunting pair are very much the franchise’s beating heart. Their quiet love and complete trust in one another firmly anchor the otherwise uneven storytelling, providing the stakes even when we know they’ll be alright. A special shout-out also goes out to an underutilised John Noble whose scenes, though few, are completely engrossing.
For fans seeking to follow the Warrens’ adventures and who are satisfied with some jump scares, The Conjuring 3 will provide. However, for those hoping for an entry of the same calibre as its predecessors, The Devil Made Me Do It is not quite that film.
The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It releases in UK cinemas May 26th.