2013’s The Conjuring and 2016’s The Conjuring 2 transported audiences into the case files of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. Both of those films drew from classic haunted house movies and helped birth the Conjuring universe. (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga would reprise their roles in 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home). We’ve seen ghosts, haunted relics and trinkets, a possessed doll creating malevolence, and a dark spirit of a nun. The challenge that met co-producers James Wan and Peter Safran with screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick is that the universe had to move away from what made it a success. There are only so many times when investigations could come to one home and tear everything up. Thankfully, The Warrens have a lot of cases to draw from. One, in particular, had a legal component to it.
In 1981 in Connecticut, a trial took place where Arne Cheyenne Johnson murdered his landlord and was charged with first-degree manslaughter. The first case in American history where the defense of demonic possession was used. There’s a backstory involving an eight-year-old boy named David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) and an exorcism that The Warrens preside over. This is where director Michael Chaves begins the story and there are homages to the 1973 film, The Exorcist. As this demon contorts and changes David, you can tell that this case is different. Especially in what happens to Ed and Lorraine. While they think this is successful like previous cases, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) experiences his own phenomenon, which results in the murder.
The Devil Made Me Do It then strives to do things differently with this installment. The component of The Warrens trying to solve the mystery is still there, but there are also legal issues to tend to. How would you even go about arguing the case of demonic possession in court? Michael Chaves is familiar with The Conjuring universe as he directed 2019’s The Curse of La Llorona. A lot of his touches make their way into this film. The 1980s vintage color and ascetic is very prevalent. In terms of the scares, they are modeled in the same fashion. Sound drops to silence, a character investigates a room or object, then there’s a jump scare. More effective imagery comes in terms of Lorraine in her abilities. This case is not as cut and dry as the other ones and that point is shown importance to what plagues The Warrens. Sure, there’s a demon, but maybe a cult at play?
The chief strength that powers The Devil Made Me Do It lies within Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Throughout these movies, we get to see how strong the union is between The Warrens. It’s their love that gets them through these insane situations dealing with the supernatural. With this film, they are tested more than ever before. To where it looks as though they have a chance of losing. Chaves helps amplify the acting between Wilson and Farmiga by putting them in situations where they get to show how strong the characters’ bonds really are. Even telling the story of their first date in a flashback.
If you’re looking for more of the legal side, this film only touches on it. There are only a couple of scenes in the courtroom and besides a brief discussion with Arne’s lawyer, this flows into horror movie territory. With the focus placed on The Warrens, there’s not so much that goes into Arne’s story other than his troubles. A love story with Arne and the Glatzel’s oldest child, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) is shown where love is a grounding force. It serves as the main hero of the film, but mostly serves one couple more than the other.
This latest entry into eight film history of the Conjuring universe will satisfy a majority of its fans. Scares that you’ve grown accustomed to are present. Where other movies dealing with exorcisms go down one path, The Devil Made Me Do It looks to change things up. Plot choices that keep things fresh and perhaps be a fitting end to the adventures of The Warrens. Heart, horror, and intrigue are all present, making a meal that’s enough to sink your teeth into.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros Pictures