If there is one saving grace for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and the universe it dwells in, it’s love.
Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) yet again find themselves at the center of a paranormal event that begins with the exorcism of eight-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). David’s entire family, including his sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) and her boyfriend Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor). The evening erupts into chaos when the entity possessing David wreaks havoc on the family. Pretty much ripped right out of The Exorcist, the scene lacks originality or any depth beyond attempting to shock the viewer with how outlandish the boy’s body contorts itself into knots coupled with a superficial sound design. This is not the only time it does something in this nature either. The scene comes to a head when Arne pleads for the entity to take him instead of the boy. Once the transfer happens, everything calms and the battle is over for now since apparently no one saw this happen other than Ed, who is incapacitated after suffering a heart injury. Arne, now harboring what the Warrens will find out to be a witch’s curse, murders his girlfriend’s boss, thus leading to the first known court case in which the defense argued for their client’s innocence based on the grounds of demonic possession.
While the real-life famous couple’s authenticity is debatable, the care portrayed by Wilson and Farmiga between their characters has always been the strength of this franchise. Director Michael Chaves and writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick put the Warrens in a dilemma by limiting what Ed does throughout the film due to his injury – although it picks and chooses when this limitation can be seen. Chaves and crew are wishy-washy with this strategy and eventually just forgo it, so the story still ends up being Ed saving Lorraine from the clutches of witchcraft. Their tenderness towards one another also has included an intimate family setting. Interfering with this foundation puts the film in an odd place that fluctuates in tone. A chunk of it takes a stab at being an investigative thriller; some of it courtroom drama; too little of it scary. Whatever sequences that try to be scary are run of the mill. Lots of staring into dark spaces, waiting for something to charge in an overused crab-walk, no dread behind it.
The movie is also ugly. Its drab color palette is muted with the woes of MCU-like greys. Apart from a handful of well-composed shots, the cinematography creates a forgettable experience. There’s nothing stress-invoking about the CGI-constructed demonic face morphs and body mutilations that haven’t been done dozens of times now. Even its “twist” is one that can be seen from a mile away, but the same can be pretty much said about everything else in this.
Even though we’re now three movies into this franchise, not counting the number of spinoffs its inspired, it’s still no more interested in filling out the world the Warrens inhabit beyond reaping the rewards of dramatizing another one of their cases. The lore never goes beyond the cases. There’s no love shown towards their daughter this time around, a key figure in the previous sequel. Their loyal partner Drew (Shannon Kook) is no more than a yes man with no depth beyond pitching the occasional good idea. And while the romance between Ed and Lorraine resembles authenticity, the same cannot be said about the one between Arne and Debbie. Whatever focus is given to their relationship is superficial, even while Debbie remains unquestionably loyal to her future husband whom she would marry while he served his five-year prison sentence for his murder.
The decision to play real recordings of the exorcism of David and an interviewer asking the Warrens what they think the ramifications will be in the legal system if anyone can claim demonic possession is… an interesting one. Whether it was intended by Chaves or not, the move feels like pulling the rug from under our feet. The Conjuring films have held the Warrens to this fairy tale pedestal yet chooses to undermine that by including the audio. In a stronger version of this film, their actions and the ripple effect that comes from them would be the central theme – one that is introspective and thought-provoking. Instead, one has to surrender to the idea that the audio was simply included just for the sake of scares. It’s thoughtless, effortless, and unoriginal as a whole.