NOTE: One reason why I didn’t find this movie very scary is that I was on vacation this past weekend and had to settle for watching this movie on television on HBO Max, as opposed to in a theater. The visuals were probably about as scary as they were ever going to be, but the film might have been more exciting with a theater-quality sound system that wasn’t a part of my experience.
I blinked and suddenly the “Conjuring Universe” got up to eight installments. These movies are usually tied together by the inclusion of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), and always tied together by their love of jump scares and curious decision to include just enough graphic violence to warrant an R rating. Unique to this movie is that the Warrens are more physically involved than usual, and that it comes barely two years after Lorraine Warren’s real-life death at the age of 92. This film is set in 1981, and it’s hard to take her peril seriously when we know she has to live to die two years ago.
The film tells the “true” story of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), the boyfriend of Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook), who attended the Warrens’ exorcism of Debbie’s younger brother David (Julian Hilliard). The demon possessing young David is able to overpower Ed, and sensing that the Warrens cannot win, Arne offers up himself as a host for the demon if it will leave David alone. All of a sudden, David is no longer possessed. The only one who knew about Arne’s offer is Ed, and he’s in a coma. As for Arne, either the demon makes him forget his offer or he’s too asymptomatic of demon possession to think he’s in danger.
Actually, it isn’t Arne who’s in danger so much as his landlord, whom Arne stabs to death. He’s soon arrested and claims that he wasn’t acting of his own free will. Lorraine and the recently-revived Ed know about Arne’s recent brush with the forces of evil and believe that something made him commit the murder. Maybe not the Devil of the title, but something. They find a haunted totem under the Glatzel house and take it to an expert on the occult (John Noble) who tells them that they’re risking everything by meddling with these forces. They go to the police, who will only take them seriously if Lorraine can use her psychic abilities to solve a missing persons case first. She puts the “real” detectives’ work to shame.
Since there’s hardly any of the creepy doll Annabelle or nun-like demon Valek in this movie (the single funniest moment is an offscreen encounter with Annabelle), it has to rely on the charisma and charm of the Warrens to make it the least bit interesting. Wilson and Farmiga put their backs into it, but they can only give so much life to this dull material. Even John Noble, who I loved on “Fringe,” can’t do anything new with his character, which we get in one form or another in all of these movies.
If you’re a fan of the Conjuring Universe, you’ll probably “like” “The Devil Made Me Do It.” You probably won’t “love” it, because it doesn’t do enough to stand out, but it does hit all your favorite stylistic beats. I don’t generally “like” these movies, so to me, this is just a rehash of a formula that wasn’t working particularly well in the first place. This movie only exists to add another chapter to the franchise.
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is playing in theaters and available on HBO Max. The film is rated R for terror, violence, and some disturbing images. Its running time is 112 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.