The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

More a murder mystery than a haunted house story, The Conjuring 3 feels worn and tired.

Just when jump scare horror films were starting to fizzle out of the mainstream, in came James Wan and literally scared the bejesus out of us in 2013. That clap in the dark from the first film in the series – The Conjuring – is still the most effective jump scare scene in the series and no matter how many times you have seen that film, it always gets you. But unleashing fear in a viewer is more of an art than a skill. That’s because movie patrons willingly let filmmakers take advantage of their fears to have a frighteningly good time, in return for the price of admittance. With this third iteration, do you get what you pay for? Read on to find out.

Although The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – which I will call The Conjuring 3 – is the third film as a sequel, it is the eighth in the Conjuring universe when you include spin-offs like Annabelle and The Nun. If you discount jump scare tactics in these films, the common thread is demonic possession and that all eight films are loosely or wholly based on actual paranormal incidents documented by Ed and Lorraine Warren, real life paranormal investigators. The Conjuring 3 is no different when it comes to demonic possession, with Ed and Lorraine exorcising the demon, but this is merely the first ten minutes of the film. The remaining hundred minutes is a whodunit serial killer story leading up to a landmark murder trial that took place in 1981 Connecticut, New England; Landmark, because for the first time in US judicial history, ‘demonic possession’ was used as defense in a court of law. To prove Arne Johnson’s innocence in an implicated horrific murder, Ed and Lorraine must knock on neighbor’s doors, interview the police who are already investigating the case, examine satanic artifacts and crawl through creepy tunnels to prove, basically, that the devil made Johnson do it. What doesn’t happen is all hell breaking loose like we are accustomed to seeing in the previous films.

As a follow-up to The Curse of la Llorona (also within the Conjuring universe), director Michael Chaves capably uses Wan’s tried and tested approach of timing and utter silence to make you hold your breath. But only so much. The main problem with The Conjuring 3 is not in the direction but in shifting focus from a haunted house to a murder mystery. As such, this new approach doesn’t fit anywhere in the entire franchise. The other problem, as you will discover, is that for the first time in the series, the malignance is not really demonic in origin. Fundamentally, this is a huge problem with the film as demonic possession has always been a major part of the Conjuring films. Which is why scenes with unmissable homage to the mother of all demonic possession films – The Exorcist – doesn’t really work and instead, shows that the series is ageing beyond repair. Inevitably, The Conjuring 3 isn’t nearly as scary as a horror film should be, and instead, works within the confines of a well told detective story.

As Ed and Lorrain Warren, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have portrayed two of the most iconic figures in modern horror. With their character dynamics, they do bring a sense of belonging and even a bit of nostalgia from the previous films. It will be interesting to see if they have what it takes to continue the franchise with the Warren’s most notable paranormal investigation – What made Ronald Joseph DeFeo brutally kill six of his family members in 1974, in a Long Island suburb called Amityville. It’s the same question The Conjuring 3 asks but botches in its answer – what can make a sweet and innocent boy next door capable of such a heinous crime? Perhaps main man James Wan can answer that with his upcoming but reportedly mind bending new horror thriller simply titled Malignant.


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.