Ed and Lorraine Warren (once more played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) return with yet another terrifying case in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Attention this time turns to the eerie story of Arne Johnson. The real-life case involving Johnson is fairly well known. It has been dubbed as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case, with it being the first known in the United States in which the defence claimed the defendant had committed murder whilst being demonically possessed. In the film we join the Warrens as they perform an exorcism on Johnson’s girlfriend’s younger brother, David Glatzel. During the ritual, Arne (played by newcomer Ruairi O’Connor) offers himself in exchange for David. The demon accepts and before long Arne is locked up for murder, although he has no recollection of having committed the crime. With the Warren’s aware of Arne’s sacrifice, they work with both Johnson and the police to try and prove that a supernatural force was in control at the time of the incident.
This time around The Conjuring gets an eighties upgrade after the previous two instalments unfolded during the seventies. The year is 1981, making it ten years since we first joined Ed and Lorraine on a case. Before you start imagining shell-suits, aviators, and puffy shoulder pads, the film remains visually close to what we’ve seen before. As popular as eighties nostalgia is at the moment thanks to shows like Stranger Things, here the decade is merely a factual backdrop for the story; the original case happened in 1981 and so the film follows suit. By skirting the trappings of eighties throwbacks, Chaves retains that classic timeless sensation that has made the series so successful. The only real nod to the time period comes by the inclusion of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ on the soundtrack. The song plays over one of the best sequences in the movie and will likely transport you back the next few times you listen to it.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It moves on from the haunted house setting and branches out into some different locations. With the stuffy old house behind them, director Michael Chaves tells his story across a variety of locations, including the woods, a morgue, a prison, and the all important creepy basement. As well as pushing into new territories from a location standpoint, it also moves on from the rinse and repeat jump scares that the other films have become synonymous with. The overused cheap gags of the universe have been thrust aside, offering a much more sinister story of demons and the Occult. It’s the ideas and the feelings elicited within that make this chapter frightening, the Occult element adding a very human threat to proceedings that we haven’t seen before.
As the story is based around both Arne having visions, and Lorraine using her gift much more than we’ve seen before, there’s a lot to get across outside of a typical verbal narrative structure. This is achieved rather elegantly as the usual hair-rising visuals combine with other technical elements to create a stranglehold of intensity. The sound design permeates the screen and once again dictates the pacing and duration of the moments of fright. It’s not as invasive as in the first sequel, but once more manifests the perfect chilling tone for our visuals to unfold. Then there’s the inspired use of editing to help generate a head-swimming sensation; much like Arne, we’re left wondering what is real and what is not. Add to that some stunningly timed cuts between Lorraine’s spirit walking and what is happening in the present, and you get sequences that make your breath catch in your throat.
What has always made The Conjuring films stand out against the spin-offs within the universe, is the inclusion of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The pair, based upon the real-life monster-hunting couple, are the ever-beating heart of the franchise, and it is their love that injects the series with heart and emotion. This entry delves especially deep into their bond, even going as far as to reveal how they first met. They are also tested further than we’ve seen before, and rather than being side-characters to the demonic action, this time they take the full spotlight as we explore just how they work to help those that need it. It’s a wonderful decision and leads to some truly beautiful moments between Farmiga and Wilson.
By focusing on Ed and Lorraine, the usual “scares” take a backseat, but are replaced with an ever present sense of dread that makes for an even more uncomfortable viewing. Chaves works to draw out events, and though more spaced out than we’ve become accustomed to, still lands with a heart-stopping jolt. The fear levels are further raised as this time Ed and Lorraine are really in the thick of things, and given that we’ve now spent several films with them, the audience is very invested in their plight. A welcome departure from the franchise’s self-imposed convention, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is an insidiously sinister watch that’ll haunt your dreams.
Another hit for The Conjuring series, The Devil Made Me Do It switches tact and focus from haunted house and random family, to a tale of the Occult, with the Warren’s front and centre, to create the most disturbing entry in the series yet.
The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It is out to own now.
This review first appeared on THN.