If there’s one thing everyone knows about horror franchises, it’s that they never manage to maintain a consistent quality. Despite often launching with modern classics that still holds up as essential horror titles – Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Saw – with each subsequent sequel, spin-off and prequel, horror franchises tend to get worse and worse until they fade away with a whimper. Unfortunately, James Wan’s The Conjuring Universe is starting to suffer that fate with its’ third part in The Conjuring trilogy and seventh title in the series overall.
Based on the trial of Arne Johnson – the first court case in the United States in which the defence sought to prove innocence based on the defendant’s claim of demonic possession leading him to commit manslaughter – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It moves away from the series’ more traditional haunted house approach with more of an investigative narrative, following Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) as they look into this fascinating case. But unfortunately, other than a few very brief courtroom scenes and sequences of investigation, the film falls into the trap of bland, unimaginative jump-scare set-pieces that underwhelm. The pacing is all over the place too, with the first act in particular moving at a snail’s pace as Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) slowly succumbs to the possession before committing a horrendous act in the film’s stand-out sequence. You’ll never hear Blondie’s Call Me the same way again.
On the whole, though, The Devil Made Me Do It is ultimately a rather tedious slog that, in an attempt to do something different with the series, removes everything that made it what it was. The franchise’s iconic villains are reduced to brief fan-service references while the new villain Isla (Eugenie Bondurant) is instantly forgettable.
But at the very least, the film has its heart in the right place thanks to the reliably wonderful work from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. With this film offering more of an insight into their love with a touching flashback to how they met in the 1950s, the film just about succeeds thanks to the work of its leads and the brief parts of the script that allow them to inject some much needed tenderness into the film. Oh, and John Noble turns up to say “I’ve got chicken shit on my hands” which could just be one of the greatest lines in modern horror.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is certainly one of the weakest entries in the series and far from the scariest, but Wilson and Farmiga pull it back from the abyss with their wonderful performances.