June 9, 2021

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
Grade: 70/100

Director: Michael Chaves
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor

What it's about. Set in 1981. Bespectacled child David (Julian Hilliard) is possessed by a demon. Married busybody psychics Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren arrive with a priest to perform an exorcism. It succeeds, but only because the demon passes to Arne (Ruairi O'Connor), a young man courting David's hottie older sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook).

Arne's odd behavior is ignored until he hacks his landlord Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. He is put on trial for his life. To save him, the Warrens must convince his attorney, judge, and jury that Arne was possessed at the time of the murder.

Meanwhile, the Warrens attempt to stop the demon from killing again. It turns out that the demon is invoked by satanist Eugenie Bondurant, who sets his sights next on the Warrens.

How others will see it. The most important thing to know about the films in the Conjuring/Annabelle franchise is that they are highly lucrative for the producers. It may well be that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga had a higher salary for the present film than the first Conjuring movie, but the pot is big enough for everyone involved.

The movies are also enjoyable, at least for those who love the horror genre. This was certainly understood and appreciated by James Wan, who directed the prior two Conjuring films. He is also credited with the story for The Devil Made Me Do It, though the plot is merely an excuse to get our two recurrent leads into a lot of trouble with the supernatural, along with young lovers Arne and Debbie.

But The Devil Made Me Do It is not directed by Wan. Instead, the duty is passed to Michael Chaves, who also directed The Curse of La Llorona. That movie was not popular with Conjuring/Annabelle fans, though it nonetheless made many multiples of its budget, which is what matters most to the franchise's producers.

Don't expect The Devil Made Me Do It to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It might scrape out a nod or two in technical categories, for makeup or visual special effects. But, again, the producers aren't chasing trophies. They want to make money.

Released only this week, The Devil Made Me Do It already has 28K user votes at imdb.com. It is the most promoted new release on HBO Max, and will likely do well in its theatrical release.

The imdb user rating is moderately lower than the prior two Conjuring films, at 6.5 out of 10. The user reviews tend to express disappointment in director Chaves, relative to James Wan. Viewers want less plot and more scary moments. Perhaps they would like a higher body count.

How I felt about it. If suspense is lacking, part of the problem is that Ed and Lorraine Warren are unlikely to be killed off, because they are needed for Conjuring 4: Oops, I Did It Again!. The unpleasant Satanist who is dressed like a member of the Addams Family is never going to stab Lorraine with the big knife, no matter how menacingly she brandishes it over her prone body.

Likewise, Ed Warren will not die of a heart attack, not even when a sadistic possessed child plays tackle football with him. Since the husband and wife team, as film characters, are immortal, they can be fearless in their adventures. But we know that the real-life Lorraine Warren would never explore, by herself , a dark and rat-infested crawl space below a house to find a demon relic.

Similarly, Debbie might love Arne, but when he starts contorting, levitating, and gargling, she will flee the room, instead of restraining him. It's only a movie girlfriend who will stand by the man she sees hack Bruno two dozen times with a knife. Obnoxious as Bruno might be.

We also wonder what happened to David and Debbie's parents. Perhaps they decided to abandon their children until the Warrens sort things out.

Overall, though, The Devil Made Me Do It is a significant improvement over the two prior Conjuring movies, and the difference is the director, Michael Chaves. If it is better than The Curse of La Llorona, it is mostly due to Vera Farmiga, a reliable actress (Up in the Air) who dominates this film.