Director Michael Chaves’ second feature “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is the eighth installment in “The Conjuring Universe” (Chaves’ debut “The Curse of la Llorona” is one of the eight films in the universe), which is also the first Conjuring franchise not directed by modern horror master James Wan.
Wan’s first two Conjuring films were both based on real-life haunting house cases: the Perron family and the Hodgson family respectively. With several previous screen adaptations, these cases are perhaps two of the most well-known paranormal events in history. However, this time, the central figures of the franchise Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) step out of haunting houses. Their new case is based on the first US murder trial that claimed demonic possession as a legal defense, known as “The Devil Made Me Do It Case.”
Chaves begins the film with the exorcism of a young boy named David (Julian Hilliard), executed by the Warrens. The sequence is a powerful start with The Exorcist-style body horror and several well-crafted scares. Then the devil moves from the boy to Arne, a young man whose David’s sister’s boyfriend and later murders his landlord. Now, the Warrens have to convince the jury that Arne has been possessed. During the investigation, things get darker as the Warrens find out David, Arne, and two long-disappeared teenage girls are all possessed by a mysterious entity behind all these incidents.
Even though Chaves has done his job competently, it’s still a shame that the great Wan didn’t direct the third sequel of his most successful horror franchise. In the previous two films, Wan delivered his character with human touch and deep emotion, especially the Warrens. Wilson and Farmiga both add very heavy and rich layers to their roles. The couple had investigated paranormal events together throughout their 30-year marriage, and they both love each other so much despite facing death over the decades. Their relationship is actually more appealing than all these ghosts and evil spirits to watch. Unfortunately, the magic just gets lost here in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.”
While opening the film with a strong scary sequence, Chaves’ direction also lost its strength very soon. Wan is a master of manipulation by letting the audience sit through the suspension with silence, by contrast, Chaves frequently uses jump scares based on the playbook lesson 101. Some are effective, but most of them become predictable and silly eventually. Then, the plot itself starts to lose its way as the Warrens venture out to another related murder investigation instead of focusing on Arne’s court case. By the end of the film, we almost forget their initial mission and what they are actually looking for.
I always say that filmmakers should never repeat themselves when making a sequel, and Chaves’ film does jump out of the box instead of applying Wan’s formula. But without all these good elements from the previous two films, it’s unfortunate that “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” just doesn’t feel right.
- Distributor: Warner Bros. and HBO Max
- Production: New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster, and The Safran Company
- Director: Michael Chaves
- Writer: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
- Producer: Peter Safran and James Wan
- Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, and John Noble
- “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” in theaters and on HBO Max on June 4, 2021
Read the review in Chinese