No, not literally (although, that would be pretty freakin’ amazing if there was a crossover). I realized I am aging myself quite considerably with the comparison (so if it makes you feel better, comparing it to a Supernatural episode would be no less apt). However, I bring it up because, in a lot of ways, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It actually reminded me more of an episode of The X-Files than a Conjuring movie. And, also in a lot of ways, that is a mostly good thing.
For many of you unfamiliar, The X-Files ran from 1993 to 2002 (with two movies in 1998 and 2008, and a revival in 2016). It centered on two romantically involved FBI agents investigating a lot of paranormal cases (often times whodunnits), usually involving aliens, but occasionally also involving demons and faith. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It centers on two romantically involved paranormal investigators trying to solve a whodunnit involving demons and faith. And because this installment is more of a whodunnit than others, it brings a bit of a welcome freshness to the formula of the tried and true “Enter Home With Demonic Possession and Perform Exorcism” Conjuring beats we always anticipate.
This chapter of the long-running franchise pulls from one of the most well-known cases of the Warrens’ files: The case of Arne Johnson. Johnson was put on trial after murdering his landlord, and cited demonic possession as his defense for pleading not guilty. The Warrens get involved, trying to do everything in their power to help Arne’s case, but suspect there may be more to the possessions going on than they originally thought. It’s up to them to solve the real mystery behind who or what is really behind the terrors plaguing Johnson and his family.
Now is the movie scary? Well like many episodes of The X-Files and most Conjuring films, yes it is! In fact, in many ways I found it to be better from a scare-standpoint than The Conjuring 2. For me, horror films these days just want to rely too heavily on jump-scares. Everything goes quiet, and dark, the music cuts out, character checks something out, nothing happens, then BAM—something happens involving loud noises/music and possibly death! And I felt the last Conjuring movie and spin-offs like Annabelle Comes Home were overly reliant on those jump-scares. Now don’t get me wrong. The Devil Made Me Do It of course has jump-scares, but it’s more successful at blending those jump scares with expectation, imagery, mood, tension, and mystery. Those were the elements that made the first film so great, and it’s nice to see director Michael Chaves (The Curse of la Llorona) tackle those same elements successfully. For instance, in many scenes you’ll see the ghost or demon trying to attack our heroes plain as day, just standing there. They’re not a surprise. Chaves is not trying to hide them. But you’re waiting in anticipation with the heroes of the story to see what it is they do, and how they attack the protagonists. And when the time comes they finally do, it’s insanely terrifying. It’s that build up that makes the scare earned. You see the horrific image of the demon or ghost. And you’re just waiting to see what it’s going to do and when. It’s very effective.
As previously mentioned, prior to The Devil Made Me Do It, the formula for The Conjuring films has been pretty overplayed at this point. The first was a solid exorcism/haunted house story in the same vein of Insidious or Amityville Horror. The second was essentially more of the same, though a rather lesser, more VFX-heavy version of it. I appreciate that this third one, however, really puts a central focus on a mystery that causes Ed and Lorraine to hunt for clues to find a culprit most of the film, and end the nightmare. It also spends a considerable amount of its focus on courtroom drama (this is after all based on a real court case). And that to me felt very fresh. To keep this franchise and its universe moving, it’s fun to explore other potential genre mash ups while still remaining consistent with the rules and tone of this universe (see also: Fast Five or the MCU). And to me, as an X-Files fan, the idea of Ed and Lorraine working with the police to connect different cases to the current one they’re working on, while using psychic powers to determine causes and motives for various murders, and getting dirty with autopsy’s and clues? I was super into it! Maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure was mine!
There’s also surprisingly a lot of heart and faith in this film as well, as there is with many Conjuring films. However, this one, more so than the previous chapters, really puts a great focus on Lorraine and Ed’s marriage, reminding us that the forces of evil are no match for love. It’s a premise that’s really sold by the great chemistry between the always-incredible Vera Farmiga, and the earnest and lovable Patrick Wilson, who, even after 5 movies as the Warrens, still manage to make them compelling characters. And additionally, the supporting performances from Ruairi O’Connor, John Noble, and Sarah Catherine Hook are also pretty top notch.
Unfortunately, where the film does stumble is in its somewhat over-the-top execution on what are supposed to be true events. And this has been a problem with the entire Conjuring universe since it became a “universe” in my opinion. They essentially take these real stories and “Hollywood-ize” them into cliched horror cash grabs. We have no idea about what really happened during the real life case of Arne Johnson, and yet the film tries to tell you that what happens in this film is the actual truth, apparently complete with too many special effects and wires for floating characters. And I don’t know if I can necessarily agree with that. There’s something about making a Hollywood picture with crazy CGI around these cases that feels a bit exploitative. If you’re going to tell the story, you don’t necessarily need all of the levitating, body contorting details. The climax of the movie, for instance, goes way over the top! So it’s hard to picture that it all really happened this way in real life. Also, you probably shouldn’t be padding that story with crazy concepts that never happened in real life either.
Also, the film, while entertaining, is also somewhat forgettable, especially when compared to the superior first Conjuring film from 2013. While it’s better than the second, it’s still nowhere as good or fresh as the first movie was, and I essentially forgot about it over the weekend. The first film haunted me days after, because it was so effective and ultimately memorable. I wish this one had the same effect. I also heard some folks comment on the pacing of the film. While that aspect didn’t bother me so much (again many X-Files episodes were slow burns), there’s a chance folks looking for the horror in traditional Conjuring films may be treated to a police investigation instead, and may get bored.
All the negatives aside though, I thought this was still a fun movie. I like this franchise. I loved that they played with the idea of emphasizing the mystery more than the horror (for most of the movie). And I jumped out of my seat several times because it’s a genuinely scary, well-acted movie. If you’ve been a fan, you’ll enjoy this. If not, it probably won’t change your mind. And frankly, for me, I just carried on with my life without any nightmares after that. That being said, one thing is for sure. It’s probably the most fun “episode” of the X-Files I’ve seen in a long time!
The truth is out there!
Overall Score: B-
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It hits theaters and HBO Max this Friday, June 4th!