The latest Warren case file is a welcome back to cinemas, even if it could stand to be a little scarier and less predictable
The demonic adventures of the Conjuring franchise’s Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) have always come with a rather hokey “based on a true story” opener, but The Devil Made Me Do It stretches this disclaimer way past its breaking point. Here is an explosive showdown between God and the Devil in which a bizarre real life 1981 murder trial is mined for supernatural thrills that are entertaining but never once threaten to feel “true.”
This trial was of one Arne Johnson (played here by Ruairi O’Connor), a young man who brutally stabbed his landlord to death but made American history as the first defendant to ever submit a plea of “not guilty by reason of demonic possession.” Of course, The Devil Made Me Do It takes Arne at his word – he was present at an exorcism watched over by Ed and Lorraine, so his demon-experience bonafides aren’t in doubt – and so our lead couple must track down and stop the Satanist that is masterminding the horror.
By this point we’re at the third mainline Conjuring movie, and the eighth film set in this general universe, so fans have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The Devil Made Me Do It isn’t particularly interested in subverting these expectations, instead delivering all the jump scares, freaky contortionist body horror, and spin-off baiting worldbuilding that have come to define this series. There’s certainly a lot of fun to be had with ingredients this familiar, though the lack of surprises does also bleed into a relative dearth of big scares. There are some excellently disconcerting monster designs, but a lot of the scenes are too predictable to really linger with you.
Helping combat this, though, is a brilliant use of sound. The Devil Made Me Do It is a film to really relish in a newly reopened cinema, all its eerie rattles and creaks feeling like they’re just behind you, something menacing ready to pounce at any moment. An overly explosive finale does away with a lot of the film’s more effective tricks for some rather ropey-looking spectacle, but this is a mostly handsome film that’s easy to get lost in – especially when it dives deep into its ‘80s period details (a haunted water bed makes for a standout set-piece).
For all the demons, ghouls, and haunted dolls, the USP of the Conjuring series has always been Ed and Lorraine themselves, their wholesome(ish) married bliss the cornerstone that grounds some otherwise very silly movies. Wilson and Farmiga still play off each other very well, and the genuine care they have for each other lends the film a staying power that a horror with less likeable characters would lack.
With its knowing winks to both its franchise predecessors and genre classics, as well as a series of sunlit scares, this is a real summertime horror film. It’s not grim, grisly, or terrifying enough to feel it quite belongs amongst the usual October glut the genre has, and more hardcore horror connoisseurs might find its lightness off-putting, but sometimes all a threequel has to do is play the hits, and The Devil Made Me Do It does so with style.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is now showing in UK cinemas.Where to watch