After a string of somewhat lackluster side-stories, the next direct sequel of The Conjuring’s core franchise is finally here. Subtitled The Devil Made Me Do It, the third Conjuring film sees the return of franchise stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren, called to defend Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who stands trial for a murder they all proclaim was the result of demonic possession. Taking the director’s chair this time around is Michael Chaves, who’s other key directing credit includes 2019’s La Llorona – one of the extended universe’s instalments. Like its two predecessors, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is based on a true story.
It’s 1981 and in the township of Brookfield, Connecticut, Ed and Lorraine Warren assist in the exorcism of 8-year-old David Gatzel. David, an otherwise ordinary boy, had moved into a new home with his family and soon after began exhibiting strange and erratic behaviour. Plagued by visions of demonic beings, David began showing signs of possession. At David’s exorcism Arne, the boyfriend of David’s older sister Debbie, taunted and incited the demon to leave David alone. The demon did, only to take up residence inside Arne instead. Before long, Arne is exhibiting the same alarming behaviour as David and in the midst of a hallucination, Arne fatally stabs his landlord 22 times. And so begins the fight for his soul.
The Conjuring prequels are incredibly hard acts to follow. With both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 helmed by James Wan, Chaves definitely had some big shoes to fill, but came out swinging for his addition to the franchises’ core body of work. The opening shot of the Glatzel house is in complete disarray, as the soft sound of Ed reciting passage filters through the air immediately grips you. Where Wan’s direction often takes a softer approach to the introduction and builds tension over time, Chaves wants you to know exactly what you’re in for from the outset. Between the glinting chandelier on the floor of the foyer and the claw marks across the walls, we know it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
I have to give credit where it’s due here, because we know from history with the Saw franchise that the quality typically drops off once Wan passes on the reins as director, and the same can be said for Conjuring 3 to some degree. Unlike its predecessors, Chaves’ Conjuring film lacks a lot of the tension and simple visual effects that made the other films so deeply terrifying. Stand-out scenes from the first two Conjuring films like the ‘hide & clap’ game, Lorraine’s vision of the hanged woman above Ed’s shoulder, or the Valak portrait coming to life in Ed’s study are vetoed for dialogue heavy cuts and flashy transitions, though audiences can still look forward to a handful of well-executed spooky shots.
The Devil Made Me Do It also lacks some of the mysticism of the previous Conjuring films due to its story being more ‘human’ driven, focusing on themes of satanism and the occult that the other films only touched on in passing dialogue. Where Chaves and cinematographer Michael Burgess earn their praise is that those changes are executed extremely well. The sweeping camera movements and light transitions as Lorraine enters her ‘visions’ are beautiful, fully immersing viewers into her otherworldly abilities in a way Wan’s films didn’t. Although this does mean some jump scares are sacrificed, the overall style of these shots are to be appreciated. The dialogue heavy scenes also include some nice throwbacks to the first Conjuring film – courtesy of David Johnson-McGoldrick’s screenplay – that franchise fans will enjoy picking up on.
Where The Devil Made Me Do It does stack up to its siblings, is with its central couple, Ed and Lorraine. A couple like the Warrens with their stranger than fiction life makes for some really great characters, and watching Wilson and Farmiga embody their personalities is always a joy. They’re so nauseatingly adorable together, and it’s clear that they really love inhabiting these roles. On the occasions when the action in the film dwindles or falls a little flat, Farmiga and Wilson maintain a tight grip on your attention, and this helps to propel the story through those moments.
With Conjuring films, we know that Ed and Lorraine are a package deal, but what I genuinely loved about The Devil Made Me Do It is that Lorraine is truly central to this story. One could hardly call a woman like Lorraine Warren a passive participant but in previous instalments her abilities meant that she did the sleuthing while Ed put in the elbow grease. However, Chaves and Johnson-McGoldrick flip this to put Lorraine firmly in the driver’s seat and Farmiga more than rises to the challenge. With her fourth go at the character, she seems somewhat more expressive than before as she gets to explore Lorraine’s gifts and capabilities more wholly.
Overall, and at face value, The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It is a very decent horror film. Like the other Conjuring titles, it functions well enough as a standalone that any newcomers to the franchise can watch it without feeling lost or disorientated. But unlike the others, it lacks some of the finesse and craftsmanship felt under James Wan’s direction.