Spoilers would’ve entered an insanity plea instead.
The franchise of The Conjuring once more takes inspiration from a real life case. It’s obviously not fact-based, but trying to build on the lore of its cinematic universe. To its credit, the characterization of the Warrens does stay in line with the previous films. To its detriment, I have to say this doesn’t really elicit many scares. It’s marginally better in storytelling than its spin-offs but not necessarily more entertaining. Despite some recognizable horror elements, it doesn’t deliver as much scares as the material suggests.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) was directed by Michael Chaves and written by David Leslie-Johnson and James Wan. Rather than based, it was inspired by a true story. The Warrens, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) are more characters created by Chad and Carey W. Hayes than their real-life counterparts. In this adventure, they start with the actual exorcism of a young child, complete with a scene of the priest in the hat standing in front on the house.
For this movie to depict an exorcism in its opening act, complete with a way-too-obvious callback to The Exorcist, is a bit much. I feel this first act just gives the whole trick away in the beginning and would have made for a better reveal if we started from the trial and didn’t reveal this until halfway in. The child, David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), at some point manages to wriggle loose. When a family friend, Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) offers himself as a vessel in a desperate act, the demon jumps ship. Arne is the one that is later responsible for killing a man and whose lawyer gets convinced by the Warrens to plead demonic possession in court. For me this is where the film should’ve started and save the exorcism for a later reveal.
As it happens, I think from here on what we get is more of a run-of-the-mill thriller with some horror flavour but little spice. Satanism appears in its old classic Hollywood depiction, with in this case seems to reply on totems and curses. We also get the introduction of the wiser flawed retired priest, Father Kastner (John Noble). At least Arne has the very resilient Debbie Glatzer (Sarah Catherine Hook) by his side. However, I am glad the movie quickly puts Lorraine in the protagonist’s seat. It’s actually Farmiga’s performance as Lorraine that carries most of the film.
As scary movies go, I feel this film could’ve benefit of keeping its cards closer to the chest. Instead what we get is a supernatural thriller that brings nothing new to the table. I did like how the film does some character building on both Lorraine and Ed, but the entertainment value diminishes fast. The whole usual “Satanic panic” element could have used some subversion though, because at face value it didn’t really deliver. At least the film tries to reconcile its conclusion with the cases’ actual resolution but obviously takes a lot of liberties in how it gets there.
Lightly recommended with reservations. It does help to know to recognize when the horror takes a backseat to the thriller genre, but even as we get a respite from the intense it does feel like we’ve seen it done elsewhere already. I would say that although we get to care for the fate of these characters, the stakes never quite make it really high enough to be scared for them. If you’re a fan of the franchise, it might be worth a watch. If you’re looking for horror, this might be a little underwhelming as a horror film and average as a thriller.
That will do for now.