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The Conjuring-verse, as pretty clear by its title, has always invited slightly more reverence for The Conjuring films. In spite of the franchise having some excellent spin-off outings in Annabelle: Creation and Annabelle Comes Home, James Wan’s acclaimed The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, have always been the more respected backbone of this horror universe. So, with that fact comes a degree more hype for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. This is a mixed blessing. Indeed, had this have been a spin-off story in this series, I would wager it may have received warmer reviews than it has, yet, despite some seemingly nonplus reactions, I felt this third film fit right in with the other two.
The film is inspired by the attention-grabbing trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (and Gerald Brittle’s book about the case), a 1981 Connecticut murder trial in which the accused pled innocent by reason of demonic possession – a first in American legal history. The story once again follows married paranormal investigator couple Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), as a hellacious case leaves Ed hospitalised with a heart condition, but soon both are required to help young man Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) out of a pretty damning murder trial, by solving the insidious plot that led to his apparent violent possession.
Opening with a chilling The Exorcist-inspired opening, which is arguably the most unsettling sequence in the entire film, The Devil Made Me Do It soon takes the Conjuring-Verse franchise tropes we know and love and delivers what fans want, while also working rather hard at doing something different with a murder mystery plot and shaking up the overall formula. This slightly different approach means that some aspects of David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s screenplay don’t quite pan out or gel as satisfyingly as you might wish at times (even when answered, the mystery feels random in nature) but on the most part, this is an intriguing reflection of the satanic panic that struck ‘80s America post-Manson and pre-Ramirez, and a refreshingly surprising sequel (those expecting a courtroom drama horror, instead get an almost detective procedural). Plus there are some inventive twists on the usual scares (see a bathroom handrail double take and a water bed scene), as director Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) wisely avoids going the same routes as Wan, and instead branches largely away from haunted house frights.
That said, the core of this universe has – if we are honest – always been the love between Ed and Lorraine, and again Wilson and Farmiga respectively are excellent, keeping you invested in every moment of the story, and there are some great jolts of darkness and peril in their relationship here. Jolts that not only make you care more but develop their onscreen characters really quite beautifully. They are the real story here, though the supporting cast do a good job in keeping the cogs of the overall narrative twistedly turning, while Joseph Bishara’s reliably unsettling score adds evil to some well assembled and grey cinematography by Michael Burgess.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, contrary to popular opinion seemingly, is an admirably different yet still recognisable development of the hit franchise and, like the previous films, it does justice to the intriguing real story and people that inspired its creation.
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