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Review: ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ Upends the Series' Formula, With Less-Than-Scary Results

June 4, 2021Ben MK

With a total of eight films spanning eight years, including no less than five spinoffs, The Conjuring cinematic universe has proven to be one of Hollywood's most popular horror franchises in recent memory, turning real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren into household names in the process. Now, in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, director Michael Chaves takes the series where it's never gone before — into the realm of the police procedural.

Set in 1981, the movie zeroes in on the real-life case of Arne Johnson, a Brookfield, Connecticut teenager who was charged with the brutal stabbing death of his landlord. It was the first murder in the town's 193-year history, but where the case takes a bizarre and supernatural twist was in Arne's claim that he was possessed by a demon at the time of the killing. Using Arne's defense as the story's focal point, this third entry in the franchise proper sends its protagonists, demonologist Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), on a journey that will test not only their own resolve, but also the audience's willingness to tolerate a narrative that ventures away from the franchise's trademark storytelling.

It all begins with the exorcism of an eight-year-old boy named David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). But when David, his older sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) and their family, moved into their new house, little did they realize that they would soon become the victims of a Satanic curse. Calling in the Warrens to help them rid their home of the evil entity, the Glatzels unwittingly pass the curse onto Debbie's boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O'Connor), setting into motion a sequence of events that will see the Warrens seeking the aid of a man named Kastner (John Noble), a former priest whose knowledge of Satanic cults runs deeper than either of them could ever imagine.

From a reanimated corpse that looks like it wandered out of Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead to a haunted waterbed that evokes Peter Jackson's The Frighteners, what follows certainly isn't devoid of jump scares. Unfortunately, for the most part, the result is surprisingly tame, a fact that can be attributed to the filmmakers' decision to take this latest sequel outside of the established box that has defined the series thus far, making this particular outing less of a spooky ghost story and more of a whodunit framed through a spectral lens.

That said, if the idea of a supernaturally-themed episode of Law & Order sounds intriguing, then The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It might be just what the priest ordered. However, if you're in the mood for a film that conjures up some genuine scares, then you're better off rewatching the earlier movies, as this latest installment in the Conjuringverse falls far short of the bar set by its best — and even some of its worst — predecessors.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It releases June 4th, 2021 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for terror, violence and some disturbing images. Its runtime is 1 hr. 52 min.

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