The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

In 1980, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) were called to Brookfield, CT by the Glatzel family, whose young son David’s (Julian Hilliard) behavior had become frightening since moving into a new rental property.  Alarmed by what they witnessed, the Warrens called in their friend Father Gordon (Steve Coulter) to perform an exorcism, but David’s sister’s fiancé, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), invited the demon to take him instead during the rite.  When Arne later stabbed his and Debbie Glatzel’s (Sarah Catherine Hook) landlord Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death, the Warrens advised his attorney to use possession as his defense in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.”

Laura's Review: C

‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ is how the real life case, the first time demonic possession was used as a defense in a U.S. courtroom (the judge disallowed it), was known, and it must have been an intriguing trial.  But you wouldn’t know it from this latest adaptation of a ‘Warren case file’ as all screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (“The Conjuring 2,” “Aquaman”) does is tee it up before concocting an absurd witchcraft story (it should also be noted that the real David Glatzel went on to sue Lorraine Warren over her book published on his case, claiming the entire thing was a hoax, his mental illness at the time exploited for monetary gain).  Surprisingly, director Michael Chaves (“The Curse of La Llorona”), taking over the reins from executive producer James Wan ("Saw"), actually keeps things interesting up through Johnson’s crime only to allow the movie to nosedive once it enters territory even the Warrens would claim is fictional.

Chaves enters his tale in media res, tracking into the Glatzel house via empty rooms exhibiting broken glass and clawed walls, the Warrens already panicked before Gordon arrives in full Father Merrin “Exorcist” homage.  David’s possession is quite convincingly done, largely via the real time practical effects contributed by twelve year-old contortionist Emerald Gordon (Hilliard’s face was composited onto her body).  The director also leans on the sound of barking dogs at Bruno’s Brookfield boarding kennel for unsettling effect, Arne going ‘under’ as his drunken landlord cranks up ‘Call Me’ on the stereo and grabs Debbie to dance, the entire scene a descent into hellacious chaos.  But once local cops confront the bloodied young man walking down the road (‘I think I hurt someone’), the movie slides downhill.

Press notes claim Wan and Johnson-McGoldrick jumped on a ‘little known element’ of the story, the Glatzels purportedly having believed they were cursed, to give the Warrens more to do as Arne sits in jail.  What they’ve come up with is ridiculous nonsense involving ‘The Occultist’ (Eugenie Bondurant), who placed a demonic totem under the Glatzel house to achieve the ‘innocence’ element of the three souls she needs (the other two indicated as ‘lover,’ meaning Arne, and a religious figure used here for misdirection).  Tidbits from other Warren history, such as Ed’s heart attack and Lorraine’s psychic cooperation with police investigations, are melded in, the former allowing Lorraine to take charge of such activities as crawling under houses and racing through forests.  A flashback to the night they met as seventeen year-olds may delight fans, but is sentimental hokum.

Some interest is piqued with the Warrens’ referral to Father Kastner (John Noble), whose own locked basement of supernatural artifacts so spooks Lorraine she can hardly descend the stairs, but the film’s overblown climax is boring…and anticlimactic.  “Annabelle: Creation” costume designer Leah Butler steps in to style Lorraine’s prim dowdiness while its production designer Jennifer Spence excels in the same spots the film does.  Chaves’ “Llorona” cinematographer Michael Burgess pulls off a neat lighting transition for Lorraine’s psychic recreation of a murder.

Once upon a time, “The Conjuring” was a surprisingly effective horror film, but nothing in the franchise since has ever measured up.

Warner Brothers will release “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” in theaters and on HBO Max on 6/4/21.