The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it is the latest film released in The Conjuring film franchise (often referred to as The Conjuring Universe). The series as a whole has grossed over $1.9 billion globally across eight installments, cementing its success as a modern horror franchise. It relies on a tried-and-true formula of dramatising real-life cases of supposed paranormal activity and urban legends to deliver classic horror stories with craftiness.
The Devil Made Me Do It delves into the case of Arne Johnson, a man who murders his landlord claiming that he was under the influence of a demon and turns to a team of demonologists to prove it. Like most of the cases explored in The Conjuring films, this one was also adapted from the accounts of actual husband-and-wife paranormal investigators Ed, and Lorraine Warren, who would become the defining fan-favourites of the series. The relationship between Ed and Lorraine (played expertly by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively) drives the emotional core of every film they appear in together and The Devil Made Me Do It follows the same tradition by becoming the third Conjuring part to feature the Warrens as the main protagonists.
The return of Farmiga and Wilson, along with the solid performances from the rest of the supporting cast, notably by Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook and Julian Hilliard, are among the best reasons to watch. The film offers some memorable and chilling sequences and remains mostly nuanced throughout, as it attempts to live up to its predecessors.
Despite the talented cast, scary visuals and the lure of a true crime story, the latest installment still falls short in some aspects, especially when comparing it to The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, which are often cited as the franchise’s strongest. The franchise is responsible for some of the most iconic imagery in contemporary horror and this is partly due to the portrayal of its demonic villains. The Conjuring Universe depicts an array of supernatural antagonists including Annabelle, the Crooked Man and the Nun and these evil entities have become a staple of the series, with the audience expecting a new terrifying creature in each subsequent sequel.
The Devil Made Me Do It, however, takes a slightly different approach with its antagonist. Instead of creating a new distinctive demon, this sequel opts for a human villain; an occultist who curses Arne (played by O’Connor) by sending a nameless and rarely seen on-screen demon after him. It serves as one of the weaker points of the film as the occultist isn’t as intimidating as the demonic villains of previous films, reducing the viewers’ fear.
The film also shows signs of fatigue in the franchise by recycling some of the same visuals and scares that have been used in previous installments, such as the effect of a body contorting and cracking when it is possessed (Annabelle: Creation), the villain transforming into a friendly character to trick others (multiple installments) and the screaming demon suddenly appearing when a character turns around (The Curse of La Llorona).
Admittedly, these scare tactics and scenes can be found in almost every mainstream supernatural horror flick but in the case of the Conjuring Universe, we see the scenes recreated with similar cinematography, settings, special effects and sometimes, even the same characters. Watching the same characters get scared in the same places, and reacting in the same way, can become tedious and cause parts of the film to feel like rip-offs of its predecessors.
Having said that, The Devil Made Me Do It provides enough originality to function as a stand-alone film and can be commended for trying something new to distinguish itself from the earlier releases, even if it doesn’t always succeed. It is ultimately powered by its touching and well-acted character moments and some hair-raising scares which make it a worthwhile watch for both fans of, and newcomers to, the Conjuring Universe.
BIO: Zaina Ayub is a communication design student with a love for all things horror.
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