It’s hard not to go into The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It with a bit of skepticism. Conjuring 1 & 2 filmmaker James Wan, while serving as a producer and shares a story credit here, decided not to return behind the camera. Instead, the reigns have been given to Michael Chaves, director of the woefully unfrightening The Curse of La Llorona. Not to mention The Conjuring universe as a whole has shown its limitations with the most recent entry Annabelle Comes Home particularly uninspired. Thankfully, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It changes up the franchise formula to mostly winning results, but severely lacks in lasting frights.
The Devil Made Me Do It follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) in the real-life — as always with these films, take those words with a grain of salt — case of Arne Johnson (Ruari O’Connor), who was accused of murder, with the defense that he was under demonic possession. After a particularly disturbing opening that features one of the better cinematic depictions of an exorcism since, well, The Exorcist, this latest entry in the Conjuring franchise makes a notable attempts at changing up the formula. The Devil Made Me Do It largely serves as a reworking of a detective story with the Warrens out to prove Johnson’s innocence. This case features far more than your usual demonic spirits with the introductions of curses and satanic cults.
Director Michael Chaves proves himself more than capable at handling the films dramatic weight, with Arnie’s case always engaging and features a number of strong performances– most notably that of Wilson and Farmiga. The screenplay, written by The Conjuring 2 co-writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, builds a compelling enough mystery that also further explores the close relationship between The Warrens. The biggest problem here is the lack of meaningful scares. It would be wrong to assume Chaves could bring the same creative spark as Wan, and despite a new visceral sense of energy, Chaves fails to leave much of an impression as a horror craftsman. The overall tone is much darker here given the subject matter, but there’s a crippling lack of atmosphere that normally comes in spades in even the lesser Conjuring spinoffs. The deeper dive into occult activity is ripe for show-stopping scares, and although Chaves can pull off an easy jolt and some effective imagery, none of it really sticks.
The Devil Made Me Do It reaffirms the franchises greatest strength in the relationship between the Warrens, played wonderfully again by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. Their dynamic is the secret weapon of these films, and its never been more apparent than it is here. Wilson and Farmiga truly have a rare magnetic chemistry that further solidifies their portrayal of the Warrens as one of modern cultures most dynamic duos. The film does add an interesting new wrinkle in their partnership as Ed suffers a heart attack in the films intense prologue, creating more personal stakes.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is certainly inferior to the first two films, but it’s an engaging ride that follows two of horror cinema’s most compelling duos. It’s a dramatically satisfying film, just not a particularly scary one.