Catching up with good characters is like catching up with old friends. It’s always a pleasure, despite the circumstances. And those circumstances have changed slightly when we catch up with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Abandoning some of the style of the first two films, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is more of a supernatural detective story, as the paranormal investigators aim to prove the existence of the devil to save a young man from the death penalty.
Opening in bombastic style, The Devil Made Me Do It thrusts us right into the heart of an exorcism. Eight year old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) has been possessed by a demon, and the Warrens – with the help of Father Gordon (Steve Coulter), attempt to rid the boy of this evil entity. At first, the exorcism seems successful, with David now cleansed, but unbeknown to all but Ed – who suffers a heart attack – the demon has passed to Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) after he pleads with the demon to take him instead. A short time passes, and as Ed awakes in hospital, he warns Lorraine of what he saw. Before they can help Arne, another tension filled scene shows the now possessed Arne murdering his landlord – only to then profess in court that he is not guilty, because the devil made him do it.
The main pull of the Conjuring films has always been the relationship between Wilson and Farmiga’s, almost, perfect couple. The purity and love between the two has stood the test of time, both in the films and with cinema audiences. While the Conjuring films have spun-off to create their own universe, it has always been the Warren’s that people will come back for. Here, like in the previous films: The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, we see them battle demons both literal and spiritual. The two rarely ever fall out, but it is instead their worries for each others safety that offers up any sort of couples tension. See the look Lorraine gives Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook) when Ed begs her not to go under a house looking for clues, and hides his dismay in a comment about her ruining her dress. Or Ed’s insistence that he is fine, despite having a heart attack in the opening scene, meaning that Lorraine has more than demons to worry about now.
The sweet nature of the Warren’s relationship is set against the terrifying nature of their job and the many supernatural beings they encounter. Director Michael Chaves, taking over the reigns from James Wan, instils a familiar feel to the film but also has enough tricks to make this his own. There are several homages and references to other horror classics, from The Exorcist to A Nightmare On Elm Street, but these never feel like a director ticking boxes to please horror fans. Chaves’, and Wan’s, love for the genre is there for all to see and The Devil Made Me Do It is a better film for it.
While the main plot consists of trying to prove the existence of the devil, the courtroom scenes are merely used to bookend the case. What we see instead, is Ed and Lorraine embarking on a detective mission in the hope of tying a string of local murders to the one committed by Arne. This brings our heroes closer to danger, perhaps even more so than the first two films in the series, and there is a genuine sense of fear that this may not end well for them. Their investigation leads them down several paths, but the most consistent seems to be that of a demonic cult and a witches totem, which was left under the house of David Glatzel before attaching itself to him. There are plenty of scares to be had here, with several jump scares and tense moments to make the audience shiver. Some of these work better than others, and an over-use of one was arguably the film weakest point.
Despite it all, The Devil Made Me Do It remains a consistently entertaining popcorn horror. The new direction may or may not sit well with some fans. But its hard to deny a film which has such a charming couple at its centre. Whether we see any more films with the Warrens in remains to be seen, and for my money I think we will, but if this is their last outing then it’s a hell of a way to go.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is in U.K. cinemas now.