The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the seventh film of The Conjuring franchise, is a mix of supernatural horror and police procedural, with just a sprinkling of court room drama stirred in. Based on the first American murder case to attempt to use demonic possession as an alibi, this new addition to horror’s most successful franchise is different in tone than its predecessors and has fewer genuine scares.
The event setting everything in motion is quickly introduced as The Devil Made Me Do It (also referred to as The Conjuring 3) immediately jumps into the exorcism of young David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard, The Haunting of Hill House). David’s poor body contorts in disturbing fashion as paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) attempt to heal the child by chasing away the demon with the assistance of David’s sister, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), and her longtime boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor, The Spanish Princess).
The Warrens’ frequent consultant, Father Gordon (Steve Coulter), arrives to conduct an exorcism and his entrance allows director Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) the opportunity to pay homage to an iconic moment from The Exorcist. Once inside the house, the demon possessing David escalates his activity and anything not nailed down flies about the room like missiles seeking soft flesh. Father Gordon’s injured, Lorraine has horrifying visions, and Ed’s physically incapacitated by an uncontrollable David.
During the frenzy, Arne goes against Ed’s instructions and speaks directly to the demon residing in David. Arne demands it leave the boy and come into him instead, a well-meaning but ill-advised request. David returns to normal and it’s assumed the exorcism was a success.
Not long after the exorcism, Arne begins seeing things and feeling ill. He and Debbie move into an apartment above the dog kennels where Debbie works and they’ve barely settled in when the demon Arne invited into his body causes him to hallucinate. He believes he’s being attacked by a demon and strikes out with a knife.
Minutes later a cop comes upon a dazed Arne walking down a road, drenched in blood. He’s not sure what happened but believes he’s killed someone – and he’s correct. Arne stabbed his landlord more than 20 times.
Ed and Lorraine remain involved in Arne’s case as the young man prepares to stand trial for murder. The Warrens determine what happened to David and Arne was the result of a Satanist’s curse. After convincing Arne’s defense attorney (with an assist from Annabelle) to argue the murder was the direct result of demonic possession, the Warrens set out to discover the identity of the Satanist in hopes of proving Arne wasn’t responsible for the brutal murder.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It plays it loose with the facts surrounding the trial and ultimate conviction of Arne Johnson. The Conjuring franchise creator (and director of The Conjuring 1 & 2) James Wan and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick used one of Ed and Lorraine’s most disturbing cases as a jumping off point to expand The Conjuring universe. In both the film and reality, Arne stabbed his landlord 20+ times. The film hints that the defense attorney was able to use the devil made me do it alibi while presenting her case. In truth, the male defense attorney attempted to use that alibi but the judge didn’t permit it; the jury never heard about Arne’s supposed possession. Major portions of the film were inspired by work Lorraine and Ed did with police departments over the years, but not as part of this specific case. Also, Ed suffers a heart attack and is physically hampered in The Devil Made Me Do It. In reality, Ed’s heart attack didn’t have any connection to the Arne Johnson case.
In other words, the bones of the story are based on true events and the film was fleshed out by pulling inspiration from other cases in the Warrens’ files.
Ed and Lorraine Warren are once again at the heart of the story, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It discloses some of the couple’s backstory and provides a more intimate look at their relationship. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are so comfortable in their roles and with each other that even when the screenplay lets them down, their commitment carries the film over its rougher (nearly laughable) moments.
Wilson’s Ed is physically incapable of taking the lead for most of the investigation so Farmiga’s Lorraine handles the heavy work this time around. Lorraine in the spotlight means Farmiga’s given more time to portray her character’s psychic powers and display the steely resolve she feels even while squaring off against demons.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It finds the Warrens playing detective and attempting to connect the dots between what happened to Arne and a case clear across the country. Aiding them in the research is their assistant, Drew, once again played by Shannon Kook. This third Conjuring is really the first time we’ve seen Drew as more than just the guy behind the camera filming paranormal activity.
Ruairi O’Connor is outstanding as Arne, a young man deeply in love who unwittingly makes a mistake and offers himself to a demon. Arne seems like a decent enough guy prior to falling victim to a Satanic curse and O’Connor’s able to win our sympathy and support in a matter of a few short scenes before all hell breaks loose and Arne’s standing trial for murder.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It doesn’t live up to either The Conjuring 1 or 2. The scariest moments are telegraphed well in advance and the story isn’t nearly as terrifying as either The Conjuring 1 or 2. The first two Conjurings were confined to a single house. The universe in this film expands to multiple locations which makes the demonic attack feel less inescapable and threatening.
This latest entry feels disconnected from the other films of the franchise, despite the fact it has Ed and Lorraine Warren as its lead characters. While The Conjuring 1 and 2 were nightmare fodder, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It won’t make you sleep with the lights on or have you worried about things that go bump in the night.
MPAA Rating: R for terror, some disturbing images and violence
Release Date: June 4, 2021
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes