There are two central elements to The Conjuring films that have made the first two entries great modern horror films. One is the Warrens, who are central to many of the films in the wider Conjuring Universe. The other is a haunted house full of bumps in the night and memorable spectres. In the new entry, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the series drops the haunted house in favor of changing the formula. This is a mistake.
The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 where based on real cases and they often stick close to the personal accounts of the haunted. Here, the film fabricates a fictional narrative around a real case. This would be fine as liberties have always been taken in this series. However, the film curiously avoids some of the more interesting elements of the real story. Mainly, the sensational trial of Arne Johnson who claimed he was under demonic possession when he stabbed and killed his landlord. I for one would be down to see The Conjuring Universe veer into courtroom drama. Instead we get a few brief moments of the trial that enraptured the nation at the time.
The film opens strong with an official exorcism, assisted by The Warrens, of a young boy named David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). The scene pumps with energy as the exorcism kicks offs and an unholy demon tries to destroy everything near David. It contorts the boy into grisly shapes before Arne (Ruairi O'Connor), fiancé to David's older sister, tells the demon to take him instead. Things calm down but Ed (Patrick Wilson) has a heart attack in the process. It doesn't take long for the demon to come for Arne which leads to the film's central murder.
James Wan leaves the director's chair for this third outing and it is felt in every frame. Director Michael Chaves, who directed a lesser Conjuring Universe film with The Curse of La Llorona, takes the helm. Gone are the elegantly orchestrated scares that Wan is so good at. The camera work here is dull in comparison to the incredible visual skill seen in the two previous Conjuring films. Wan has a talent for creating apparitions that go on to star in their own film. Chaves does not have the same skill at delivering the shivers. If Wan is a maestro than Chaves is a one-man-band bussing for change.
The element that remains strong here is Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the lead roles. Their take on the Warrens is done with so much respect and class that it is easy to follow them along for a less than great adventure. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It does give us lots of time with them and is better for it. The film also provides a intriguing real-life villain in an occulist but doesn't develop the character enough. It is a shame because the film's Satanic Panic plot line could have been fascinating rather than just window dressing.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It fails to deliver the fun, impressively staged scares of its predecessors. It is a narratively broken film that lacks style and skill. That doesn't mean fans of the series won't enjoy elements of it. Any chance to see Wilson and Farmiga as the Warrens is worth the price of admission. The film surrounding them however is forgettable. Gone are the memorable jump scares, the demons that haunt your dreams and the general admiration for the craft of the filmmaking.