Runtime: 112 minutes
Director: Michael Chaves
Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (screenplay), James Wan (story)
Actors: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Julian Hilliard
By Mique Watson
This is me in a state of denial. This is me writing to you in a state of absolute exasperation and frustration with both myself and what I am about to write. I’ve loved most of the films in “The Conjuring” universe. “The Conjuring” 1 and 2 have always been sacred to me. I saw both those films on the days they opened, in a packed theater, and was both enthralled and exhilarated in equal measure. I will openly admit to having shed a tear (okay fine, I sobbed) when Patrick Wilson sang his tender, earnest cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in the midst of all the glorious tension in “The Conjuring 2″(2016). I desperately wanted to love this one.
It brings me nothing but ardent self-reproach to report to you that the overwhelming emotion the “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) left me with was boredom. This film, which runs just under two hours, felt like a three-hour movie. All I could see the entire time was the great film this could’ve been… until all the promise the first ten minutes showed completely dissolved in a tasteless, cold stew.
As with its predecessors, an actual case file of real life supernatural investigators (or con artists, depending on who you ask), Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) is dramatized. We begin at the house of the terrified Glatzel family. It’s Connecticut 1981 and their eight-year-old son, David (Julian Hillard) is being tormented by a demon, naturally. The stage is set with a gnarly exorcism, complete with claymation-like contortions and demonic verbiage! If I were to give this flick any credit, it would be that the exorcism scenes here are among the best this franchise has seen.
“It brings me nothing but ardent self-reproach to report to you that the overwhelming emotion the “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) left me with was boredom.”
(I wish I could also commend the film for not having a “protagonist who Googles stuff to uncover some crucial information to move the plot forward”! But alas, I can’t. Google didn’t exist in 1981, but ancient leather-bound tomes with crusty oxidized pages etched with pentagrams and shit certainly did!)
Anywho: the exorcism ends with David’s older sister’s boyfriend Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) commanding the demon to take possession of him instead. It’s worth noting, too, that in the middle of all this carnage, the demon had time to demonically cause Ed to spontaneously develop the propensity to have heart-attacks. What follows is an extreme pastiche of tired clichés in a movie you’ve–assuming you’re a horror fan–already seen a million times before. Though, unlike the previous installments, this one makes the completely risible mistake of attempting (and spectacularly failing) at turning the evil into a living, breathing, human being.
In doing so, this installment becomes less about a haunted house, and more about a compelling court drama… Until it decides to throw all that potential away after five minutes of exploring it and shift gears into a standard police procedural… Until it realizes oh snap! This is a Conjuring movie, let’s backpedal to the scares! This CSI: Connecticut gig ain’t working! So for the rest of this utter slog, we shift back and forth from two uninteresting storylines, all the while completely sidelining Arne–the reason this film’s title is in all-caps THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!–to accommodate more of the same junk.
Ed and Lorraine go on a literal witch hunt as Lorraine begins to feel an increasing connection to the origins of the curse that’s been foisted on them and Arne. This begs the question: Why the hell are these two powerhouse performers being forced to wander around this dumb movie like a couple of novices who don’t know what kind of movie they’re in? You’d think that by movie NUMBER THREE (or does this count as three-and-a-half given their cameo in the equally bad Annabelle Comes Home?) they’d know the rules: don’t follow the creepy guy into the basement! Don’t split up! Don’t break into a morgue alone at night and expect nothing to happen!
“Oh but the acting! Oh but the cinematography! Yes, Farmiga and Wilson are fantastic, as expected. Yes cinematographer Michael Burgess ensures that the film is gorgeous to look at; shooting it like it were a sepia photo, making fantastic usage of foreground and symmetry… but for what?”
For something that technically counts as a faith-based film, this film does nothing to address the sexism one could find in the framework of the belief system the protagonists operate in. Never mind that Lorraine would’ve been burned at the stake if this were set a couple of hundred years back; the villain of this thing is a literal Satanist witch! The choice to make the villain a human–and forego giving her any sort of fleshed-out backstory in order to make the narrative morally complex–was an abysmal miscalculation. We learn that she was raised by a priest (don’t even get me started on all the possibilities a setup like this could’ve had) and the film does absolutely nothing interesting with it.
Oh but the acting! Oh but the cinematography! Yes, Farmiga and Wilson are fantastic, as expected. Yes cinematographer Michael Burgess ensures that the film is gorgeous to look at; shooting it like it were a sepia photo, making fantastic usage of foreground and symmetry… but for what? For a film that glosses over all the darker taboos about fanaticism, abuse, and trauma that victims of this said abuse rarely speak of. For scares that are easily telegraphed from miles away. For a finale that splices in schmaltzy flashbacks of actors that look nothing like Farmiga or Wilson to build on our emotional attachment to these characters. For a false promise that this would take the “Emily Rose” route and bring the burden of proving the demonic oppression to a court of law, as opposed to the church. Instead, we get a ludicrous horror flick that dangerously romanticizes a romance with someone who was convicted and given a 10-year sentence for manslaughter.