Part of what made me go back and watch the first two Conjuring movies was seeing the trailer for this third installment. It didn’t look like the greatest thing ever, but it was a big name horror franchise with a new chapter coming out, and that intrigued me. Ever since I saw Furious 7 (just a couple of years ago) and Aquaman, I’d been wanting to go and see some more of director James Wan’s earlier work. But my wife, who is normally my go-to partner for watching horror movies, had seen the Conjuring movies and didn’t want to rewatch them. Fortunately, in the couple of weeks leading up to The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, I was able to convince her to watch the other installments so we could see the new release.
I’m not a big fan of horror — not that I’m discrediting the genre, but it’s just not usually what I gravitate towards. But my brother actually told me that this franchise, at least the main installments (so not Annabelle or The Nun), would be up my alley. And for the most part, it was. Admittedly, we watched them during the day, with the lights on, and made jokes the whole time, but that was only to lighten the mood to make sure we didn’t get too scared.
The first two films have a good mix of character work, cinematography that pulls you in, good scares, and thematic exploration. The first one in particular grabbed me. It has that perfect, contained feel that gets you an intimate look at the family. And again, thanks to the wonderful cinematography and direction, you feel like you know every inch of the house, which adds to the overall horror. The idea that these films are based on true stories also gives it that extra layer of quality, especially in the first one. When it’s so small-scale and contained, you feel like you’re a part of the family that is being haunted.
The second film, The Conjuring 2, becomes a bit bloated as the scares become bigger, but I think it dives deeper into the themes of spirituality, religion, and the Church. Those themes are probably what my brother had in mind when they told me these movies would be for me. I felt like the first one had chances to explore those more deeply, but kind of missed out where the sequel succeeded. Overall, the first two Conjuring movies seemed to be perfect stories for a modern horror audience that also work for someone like me, who just wants to see a narratively and thematically coherent movie, no matter the genre.
Unfortunately, where The Conjuring 2 built on its predecessor’s thematic explorations, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It seems to forget about all of that. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it feels like a lesser horror movie that even I wouldn’t normally consider watching. And I think that’s largely because this is the first of the main Conjuring movies that Wan isn’t directing — he’s replaced by Michael Chaves here. Even the subtitle, The Devil Made Me Do It feels more B movie-ish than saying, The Conjuring 3.
Again, it’s not a bad film. I like the way it moves away from a haunted house with a possessed person and pivots to just a possessed person. It makes it feel unique in the series because it’s less about Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) confronting an evil entity and more about a murder mystery with a spiritual twist. It’s just that it also feels unique in the series because it’s the only one that’s not very good.
Any tension or true sense of dread from the first two films is missing here. It’s much less psychologically torturous than the first two were and leans a lot more into bloody images and body horror. This in and of itself isn’t a problem. It’s just that it’s not used in a particularly effective way. The first two films also feature strong families that you’re heavily invested in and root for the whole movie. This one features a family, but they’re given so little attention that you forget how many kids there are and who the parents even are.
Lastly, gone are any gripping supporting performances in this entry. Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Joey King, and Mackenzie Foy all were excellent in the first movie, while Madison Wolfe and Frances O’Connor were standouts in the sequel. In The Devil Made Me Do It, only Wilson and Farmiga are given enough to do to be memorable. And even they, especially Farmiga, have begun going a bit over the top along with the movies’ stories, though their overall star power and talent do eventually shine through.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a serviceable, if forgettable, entry into a horror series that is overall very good. It has enough fun twists and turns along the way, but with less than stellar thematic work and nary a legitimate scare, it falls short of the lofty expectations placed on it by its predecessors.