Moving away from the haunted-house trappings that preceded the first two Conjuring films, Michael Chaves of 2019’s The Curse of La Llorona fame (original helmer James Wan decided not to return for the third time around due to the scheduling conflicts) made the smart choice of trying something different for a change.
That change in question is the psychological-thriller mould with a procedural-like narrative approach. It’s almost as if Chaves is heading The X-Files route by making the franchise’s paranormal-investigator couple (Patrick Wilson’s Ed Warren and Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren) similar to Mulder and Scully. Minus the guns and FBI credentials, of course.
This time, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It takes place in 1981 where the Warrens are trying their best to perform an exorcism on a possessed 8-year-old boy David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard, last seen in Disney+’s WandaVision mini-series). Of course, things start to grow intense as the Warrens are having difficulty trying to get rid of the demonic force, even with the subsequent arrival of an officiating priest (Steve Coulter).
Here, Chaves has no doubt getting off to a promising start and he even threw in a few Exorcist references for a good measure. Coupled with Joseph Bishara’s ominous score and nifty uses of sound and well-placed camerawork, it looks as if Chaves turns out to be a worthy replacement after all.
But after the nerve-racking opening sequence, I hate to say this but it’s all goes downhill for the rest of the film. Frankly, I didn’t expect that since I enjoyed the previous Conjuring films, even though the second one did suffer from a mild case of sequel fatigue.
As the story continues, we learn that it’s not over yet for the exorcism case. The demonic force has apparently transported from David to his sister’s (Sarah Catherine Hook) boyfriend, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor).
From there, Arne starts to experience haunted visions later on. Right to a breaking point where he ends up brutally killed his landlord. Although charged with murder, the Warrens decided to challenge the law with the help of their defence lawyer by insisting that Arne’s brutal killing is influenced by a demonic force. Given its courtroom-drama inclusion here, Chaves could have incorporated The Exorcism of Emily Rose-like narrative approach in this third Conjuring film. Too bad he doesn’t and instead, he favours the procedural-style murder mystery as the Warrens begin their own investigations to find out the truth.
However, the mystery itself is hardly intriguing or even scary. While it’s nice to see Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their famous roles again, their committed performances alone can’t do much to offset most of the film’s tepid execution. Eugenie Bondurant, who plays the mysterious occultist may look creepy in terms of her appearance but it’s a pity that her role as the third film’s major antagonist is disappointingly underwritten.
With the story — credited to David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who also co-wrote The Conjuring 2 — falters with its sluggish and murky narrative, what’s left is the horror part of the film. Sure, there are a few obligatory jump scares but most of them fail to evoke the necessary goosebumps. It’s kind of odd because Chaves already did a good job during the opening sequence but the subsequent scary parts grow either tiresome or uninspired. For example, there are two potential scenes involving a boy on the waterbed and another one takes place in the morgue, where Ed encounters a zombie-like bloated corpse.
Instead of finding effective ways to ratchet up the tension, both of these scenes are unfortunately short-lived. You can imagine if James Wan agrees to direct The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It anyway, it would result in a better horror film than what we see here. Judging by the way Wan’s direction in the first two films, what made them a frightening experience is its timing, skilful camera placements and a consistent sense of foreboding dread — something that Chaves is truly lacking in this area.
Originally scheduled to be released last September but forced to postpone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I actually been looking forward to this third instalment of The Conjuring. The plot itself has all the potential and so does the film’s refreshing change of pace that deviates itself from the aforementioned haunted-house tropes in the first paragraph. The problem is, the execution doesn’t turn out as good as I hope for.