Film Review – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

The stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren are legendary and utterly unique. In the early 1950’s, they helped found The NESPR – New England Society for Psychic Research – and began their journey into the world of Paranormal Activity, or, as many know it these days, ghost hunting. Tackling a reported 10,000 cases across the world and while they have had their sets of fans and naysayers, they have become synonymous with their work on the Amityville and Enfield hauntings (fun fact: this writer lived a stone’s throw from that location and his old school was used in the opening of The Conjuring 2) as well as many other newsworthy events.

So it’s hardly surprising that their work made fodder for the big screen and as such, The Conjuring franchise was born and, as with many trilogies, we embark on the final battle with the biggest demon of all.

A few years since their exploits across the pond, the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) are, unbeknownst to them at the time, about to face their toughest challenge yet: the “Devil Made Me Do It” case from the early 80s that saw a brutal murder – reportedly the first ever in the small town of Brookfield, Connecticut in real life – by Arne Jackson (Ruairi O’Connor) after being possessed by a demon, one which had previously had hold of a young 11-year old boy. Much seems the same for our experts but they soon learn of the true nature of this possession, one which may be out of reach for their rare gifts.

It’s easy to see why The Conjuring not only took off as a huge horror hit in its own right but spawned a franchise that now stands at eight films including this one. A “blockbuster” horror film in the realms of The Exorcist (more on that later) that has all the flashes of James Wan‘s unique eye for a set-piece that he honed on Saw, it was able to cross over from the sub-genre and blast out into the mainstream. Of course, stellar box-office helps and the first two entries went down gangbusters but the fate of Part 3 is a little less skewed given the last year and the Warner/HBO Max day-and-date hybrid release but those who have fallen for the franchise won’t be short-changed here, despite the fact that the formula feels a little stagnant.

A big key in the series’ continued success has been the formidable partnership of Wilson and Farmiga at the heart of it all – a plethora of Warren’s “stans” have emerged in the years since, and reuniting with them again here will form part of the excitement. However, despite both being excellent again, both together and singularly, they too have an air of tiredness about them even if their own love of the characters is just as strong.

In the hands of Michael Chaves, who made 2019’s spin-off The Curse of La Llorona, TDMMDI just doesn’t feel the same. Gone is Wan‘s electrifying vision to be replaced with a solid yet unspectacular structure, much like when Spurs replaced Mauricio Pochettino with Jose Mourinho: familiar players, lacklustre “new” ideas. It isn’t Chavas’s fault, per se, but akin to the creepy surroundings where these endeavours usually take place, the creaks are starting to get louder and though its design, sound and panache remain, this is a lesser beast. New additions O’Connor as the film’s possessed and his girlfriend Debbie, played by Sarah Catherine Hook, do inject some youthful vibrancy but it isn’t quite enough to exorcise the derivative demons that have begun to circle above.

Horror, Mystery | USA, 2020 | 15 | Cinema | 26th May 2021 (UK) | Warner Bros. Pictures | Dir.Michael Chavas | Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, John Noble, Julian Hilliard