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Monday, December 11, 2023

The Conjuring – The Devil Made Me Do It Review: When Supernatural Becomes Criminal & Personal

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third venture in the popular franchise but yet promises to be the most intense one yet… The only change being Michael Chaves taking the front seat as the director, rather than James Wan.

The film reveals a chilling story of terror, murder and unknown evil that shocked even experienced real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga).

One of the most sensational cases from their files, it starts with a fight for the soul of a young boy, then takes them beyond anything they’d ever seen before, to mark the first time in U.S. history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defence.

Interestingly, the case depicted – Trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (known as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case in 1981) is the first known court case in the United States in which the defence sought to prove innocence based upon the defendant’s claim of demonic possession and denial of personal responsibility for the crime.

Whilst fighting the malevolent forces as it subjugates a vulnerable and ordinary family, the movie grips one from the on-set.

We see an exorcism taking place in the first scene with plenty of action taking place, the film sets the scene quite immediately and unapologetically makes the viewer unsettled.

Immediately, we are shown the contorting body of 11-year-old David, demonic scenes and at that point, when we see the main protagonist tells the satanic spirit to “take me instead”, it sets the scene quite well of the case being a convoluted one… And convoluted it is. 

However, whilst it is a more elaborate storyline and profound storyline, the pace never falls prey to the narrative. Michael Chaves, who is no stranger to the horror genre (i.e. The Curse Of La Llorona), shows some improvement as a director. He maintains a consistent and steady speed, ensuring that the viewer is hooked and attentive at each point.

In fact, it’s interesting how both the horror films helmed by Chaves revolve around a paternal figure fighting the dark forces for an innocent, younger character. 

Since James Wan and other movies have left such a legacy, Chaves ensure that the chills offered in this one do not emulate or try to supersede scares in previous films. The horror is minimalistic yet subtle and that is what works. There are sequences that are intrinsically fresh to what we may have seen before and will stick with you by the creepy credits roll.

Credits also go to the cinematography and visual effects team for creating a dark, mysterious yet realistic world. It is because of their creative vision and prowess that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Another special mention goes to the music by Joesph Bishara. His scoring is synonymous with the franchise and never fails to give goosebumps. 

Hollywood horror is no stranger in essaying the dilemma between the law and supernatural instances. For instance, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose – which was also loosely based on a true story – quite aptly discusses how possessions can be the primary reason for criminality.

The Devil Made Me Do It also revolves around a similar concept, the difference here though, is that the procedural aspect is instrumental rather than the focal aspect of the movie.

If anything, this new edition focuses much more on the conflict between darkness and light, hence why the scares aren’t just the usual possessed doll or any figures – but a larger supernatural power and ‘cult’ that exists, maybe just not in our everyday knowledge.

Unlike any of The Conjuring films, what sets this third instalment apart from the others is how it humanises Ed and Lorraine Warren as individuals rather than spiritual saviours and heroes. Quite often, we’ve seen the couple get involved to help others, but here, it seems like the case really became personal for them and the onus is much more on them – more so during the later stages of their life.

Even in the scenes when they come vis-a-vis with the evil force, one feels the valour and yet the vulnerability of the protagonists.

As such, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have managed to recreate the roles of Ed and Lorraine (respectively) so successfully that we as viewers are instantly invested and able to resonate with them. It takes seasoned actors to achieve this – which both Wilson and Farmiga do.

A special mention goes Ruairi O’Connor who plays Arne. To play a character who is imprisoned legally and demonically is not easy at all. He is brilliant. Another fabulous talent is Eugenie Bondurant, watch out for her. 

If there are any shortcomings in The Devil Made Me Do It, then perhaps it is the overly dramatic notions of a “curious protagonist” who is aware of peril but continues to approach the danger or perhaps the onus of a protagonist to save their “love” which in a way makes it quite cliched.

Initially, when David’s possession happened, his parents, also the future in-laws of Arne were present, but throughout the film during the cusp of the case, they were absent. The unexplained absence of these characters makes one question why they were not instrumentally placed in the movie.

Generally, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is an intense insight into two spectrums of the supernatural world where Ed and Lorraine’s fight against evil forces becomes personal. 

For fans, the mention of the Perrons family will surely give nostalgia and seeing the harsh and bold font at the beginning of the movie, will definitely take you back to 2013 – when we were first introduced to The Conjuring universe.

Iconic foreboding figures like Annabelle or Valak may not be present here, but the demonic powers depicted in this will surely give you nightmares. 

⭐⭐⭐.5 (3.5/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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