By: Eammon Jacobs
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in the latest spooky chapter from the universe kicked off by fan-favourite horror aficionado James Wan back in 2013. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It once again takes a true story ripped straight from the headlines as a young man pleads guilty to murder under the defence of demonic possession. (We’ve all been there, right?) But as the Warrens struggle to comprehend what really happened, the couple uncover something even more horrifying.
While The Devil Made Me Do It is the third film under The Conjuring title, it’s the eighth film in the universe – so most audiences might think they know what they’re in for. But thankfully director Michael Chaves has some surprises up his sleeve to take the series on a slightly different course.
This film puts a lot of the focus on the connection between Ed and Lorraine, and how their partnership perseveres through the darkness, no matter how obscene their investigations get. And within the harrowing opening minutes, the story quickly shakes up the status quo between them as the physical effects of exorcisms start to take its toll on the dynamic duo – particularly for Ed.
The Conjuring universe is infamous for its jump scares as demons and spirits leap out at unsuspecting victims and the Warrens themselves, and this latest offering doesn’t break from formula – although Chaves clearly enjoys drawing out the tension for as long as possible, using misdirection to keep audiences squirming over something seemingly sinister before gleefully screaming in their faces.
It does become a little predictable at times – ‘ah the lights have all gone out in an eerie looking morgue? Well, it’s time for some nightmare fuel then.’ – but that’s not to say those scares aren’t satisfying because they really, really are. One standout moment sees someone (or something) scuttle towards the screen in a hideous fashion which might make you more than a little anxious to turn the light off before you go to sleep.
There’s plenty of chilling set pieces which are pretty intense at times – with the opening exorcism showing just how petrifying these demons really are. And praise has to be given to Julian Hilliard (WandaVision’s Billy Maximoff) because the young star clearly had the time of his life tormenting the Warrens and the Glatzel family in a memorably haunting performance.
But as the story delves further into the reasons behind Arne Johnson’s heinous crime, it starts to flounder in its attempt to find a compelling backstory to it all. It just about sticks the landing thanks to a welcome appearance from Lord of the Rings and Fringe star John Noble, making his debut in The Conjuring universe as an ex-priest named Kastner who works with the Warrens in their investigation.
His performance (alongside that brilliantly deep, bassy voice) brings an extra layer of dramatic gravitas to the film, but unfortunately he’s completely underused. Noble acts as a stepping stone for something else, which is a shame because he’s completely captivating in the few scenes he shares with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. But we are here to follow the Warrens after all, and the story from James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick deepens their dynamic a little further than before, as Wilson and Farmiga prove to be an adorable on-screen couple once again.
A huge part of why The Devil Made Me Do It feels so intense is largely down to the lighting and cinematography from Michael Burgess. He’ll have audiences searching the frame for something horrifying in the background, and it’ll stay shrouded in darkness before jerking into view with a guttural scream accompanied by Joseph Bishara’s eerie score. It’s hauntingly lit, especially in a conversation where a blood-red glow cuts across Lorraine Warren’s face, clearly signposting that shady shenanigans are afoot.
But as the film reveals its fictional Satanic mystery behind the original possession, it starts to spread itself far too thin, providing only skin-deep answers for events clearly used to bolster the runtime with extra jump scares and tension. And sure, those scenes work in the moment, but the story itself loses the razor-sharp focus that dominates the first half of the film. A last-minute reveal could’ve been seeded much further on for it to feel satisfying for the audience, as the final atmospheric confrontation comes to an underwhelming conclusion.
Although it literally goes underground in the finale, there isn’t actually much beneath the story’s surface. The ‘true-crime’ hook of it all works in the beginning, but because the film obviously uses a fictionalized ending to come up with an answer to the crime, it feels a little trivial. Not perfect, then – but if you’re looking for demonic scares and gut-wrenching tension, then The Devil Made Me Do It absolutely delivers on that promise.