Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Julian Hilliard, Sarah Catherine Hook, Ruairi O'Connor, John Noble
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
New Line Cinema
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the seventh film in the $1.8 billion Conjuring macrocosm, a misfit film that really wouldn't belong at all except for the reassuring and always welcome presence of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as those wacky Warrens - Lorraine and Ed. Directed by Michael Chaves (the vastly superior The Curse of La Llorona), The Devil Made Me Do It is more thriller than chiller and more suspenseful than actually outright frightening even for this timid and easily spooked Midwestern film critic.
The Devil Made Me Do It is an actual sequel unlike recent efforts like The Nun and Annabelle, though the film's middle-of-the-road horror cred pales in comparison to its predecessor. At this point, both Farmiga and Wilson could easily phone it in but to their credit they don't. They're still passionately invested here and they keep us nearly as passionately invested despite the film's rapid disintegration from the midway point on. There's nearly always a religious element to the Conjuring films and the same is true here as the exorcism of young David (Julian Hilliard) ends up with his sister's boyfriend, an otherwise seemingly good lad, intensely haunted to the point of murder. Another film in the Conjuring franchise based on a sensational case from the Warren's real-life files, The Devil Made Me Do It is also noted as being based on what is reported to be the first time a murder defendant has claimed demonic possession as a criminal defense.
Truthfully, I very nearly gave The Devil Made Me Do It a passing grade solely on the strength of Farmiga and Wilson. By now, they practically embody the Warrens with a believability that is both reassuring and jarring. I can never decide if I want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with them or follow them to their next exorcism.
Scribe David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick gave us the Conjuring 2 story and would seem like an obvious choice for this third journey. However, alongside Chaves's tendencies toward the absurd this is a film that spirals out of control and is saved only by the presence of Wilson and Farmiga.
Ruairi O'Connor is also a gem here as the too good to be true until he's not Arne. He's a sweet boy, at least until that demon takes hold and turns him into a bug-eyed psycho who's quickly apprehended and whom even more quickly the Warrens jump to defend. There are a few jumps and scares to be had here, though the film settles in more as an investigative thriller and Chaves seems to be determined to give this film an original voice it simply doesn't need.
I didn't hate The Devil Made Me Do it. I'd watch it again for Farmiga alone. It's just a bit of a disappointment in a franchise that has been surprisingly solid for a surprisingly long time. D.P. Michael Burgess is back and doing quality work as usual while one can't imagine this film without Leah Butler's precise, atmosphere and character-setting costumes.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It ultimately falls short but fans of the Conjuring films may ultimately still find it worth the time after a year that's been more thrilling and chilling than anything in the Warren case files. Survived the pandemic? You'll likely make it through The Conjuring: The Devil made Me Do It.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic