A compelling spiritual horror thriller, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It continues the Warrens’ journey into the occult, with arguably the most complex case yet. Based on fact, it tells the tale of a young man facing the death penalty after an horrific murder. His defence? That he was possessed by the devil.
The film starts on 18 July 1981. With the help of Father Gordon (Steve Coulter), paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are conducting an exorcism on eight-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). David is foaming at the mouth and his body writhing and twisting uncontrollably. Ed is being chocked and suffers a major heart attack. It is then that David’s sister Debbie’s (Sarah Catherine Hook) boyfriend Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) pleads with the devil to take him rather than David.
Sometime later, Debbie is living with Arne and working for Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins) at a dog boarding kennel, when evil takes hold of Arne. He stabs Bruno 22 times, causing his bloodthirsty death. With David’s trial about to start and capital punishment among the options, the Warrens plead with Arne’s defence counsel to use demonic possession as a reason for Arne to plead “not guilty”. This begins a circuitous route to find the demon that is possessing Arne … and David before him, which dates back to the start of 1981.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’s director Michael Chaves cut his teeth on the long-form genre with The Curse of the Weeping Woman (2019). David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who wrote the second chapter of The Conjuring (in 2016) is in the writer’s seat again this time around. Sound, silence, shadows and darkness are all used to positive effect, as are religious books and iconography. Production design by Jennifer Spence is highly commendable. Knives and broken glass are also part of the repertoire. The start is scary and evocative and sets the tone for what is to follow. Another such scene involves a waterbed.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga established the credibility of their characters in the first episode of the series back in 2013. They continue that tradition in this third instalment, although I found some of their dialogue clunky, particularly when they break into a funeral home.
The narrative arc requires concentration to follow because it has many threads. Clues as to the origins of the curse that has overtaken Arne Johnson are peppered throughout. Still, the “truth” fortunately still comes as a surprise. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a welcome addition to the franchise, knowledge of which would aid appreciation.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.