As a hard-core fan of the ‘golden era’ of horror films – the likes that saw chainsaw-wielding, hocky-mask-wearing psychopaths kill off a group of annoying, white teenagers – I never really got into ‘ghost stories’. The paranormal never really did it for me, until, with very low expectations, I watched The Conjuring when it came out in 2013.
The idea of anything in the horror genre being based on true events always adds to the scare factor, and the first in The Conjuring series didn’t disappoint, bringing to life the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators and authors associated with prominent hauntings. I was hooked.
In 2016, the franchise returned with the Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case. The sequel went on to be the highest-grossing film of that year, and the second-highest-grossing horror film of all time, behind only 1973’s The Exorcist.
With two great poltergeist films (not to mention the many spin-offs in the Conjuring universe, including the Annabelle series) under their belt, could Ed and Lorraine really thrill us for a third time?
They could, and they do in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
While I was never really impressed with old school ghost horrors, a good old devil possession is something I can get behind – there’s a reason The Exorcist is the highest-grossing horror of all time and the creators of The Devil Made Me Do It definitely give a few nods to the classic that came before them.
This 2021 iteration (the eighth instalment in The Conjuring Universe) was directed by Michael Chaves and is based on the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, a murder trial that took place in 1981 Connecticut.
In the film, our favourite demonologists document the exorcism of 8-year-old David Glatzel, attended by his family, his sister Debbie, and her boyfriend Arne Johnson, and Father Gordon in the town of Brookfield, Connecticut. During the exorcism, Arne invites the demon to enter his body instead of David’s, and all hell breaks loose from there (pun intended).
Any fan of Ed and Lorraine and the Conjuring world they inhabit will love this film. There are plenty of nice jump scares and throwbacks to traditional horror storytelling – including a very nice nod, during the opening scenes, to the before-mentioned The Exorcist.
The consensus is, however, that The Devil Made Me Do It represents a comedown for the core Conjuring films despite great performances from Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson which keep the audience invested and make up for some of the more predictable story elements.
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney noted that “This one offers plenty of lurid fun and some genuine scares. But the grounding in dark spirituality that made the previous entries focused on the Warrens so compelling gets diluted, despite the reliably dignifying double-act of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.”
So, it may be a little more watered down but at no point was I restless while watching the heady mix of flashbacks and creatures running towards the camera from the dark and the 80s soundtrack did wonders for my mid-30s feelings of nostalgia (honestly, I don’t think I’ll be able to listen to Blondie quite the same way again).
Perhaps I’m getting less intense about how esoteric or ‘deep’ a horror film really needs to be – are slashers really the right platform for world issues? I had fun kicking myself every time I flinched at a scare that I knew was coming and enjoyed the glimpses into Ed and Lorraine’s love story. A fellow reviewer said to me that The Devil Made Me Do It was a ‘paint-by-numbers’ horror film and maybe he’s right.
The thing about that is, if you paint-by-numbers really well, the image still comes out looking amazing.
If you’re a fan of devil possession, paranormal investigators, or even just interesting legal defence stories and you like a nice scare here and there, then I can highly recommend The Devil Made Me Do It, and the Devil won’t make you think too hard about what you’re watching either.