Friday, June 4, 2021

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It


Connecticut, 1981. Demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) come to the aid of the Glatzel family, whose 8-year-old son David (Julian Hillard) is said to be possessed by a malevolent entity. The attempt on exorcism ends in vain when the priest is knocked out by a flying dinner plate. Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), boyfriend of the family’s daughter Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) invites the demon to possess him instead as an act of desperation. As the child breaks free from the demonic curse and starts anew, the nightmare is only beginning for Arne who later ends up stabbing his landlord to death 22 times. Subjected to a possible death penalty sentence, he pleads demonic possession as an alibi, the very first time such a defense is used in American courts. Lorraine and Ed, who is now left with a heart condition after his last skirmish with paranormal forces, must now investigate to make sure that the young man is acquitted from a crime they claim he did not willingly commit.

Remaining loyal to the tried and tested formula of the Conjuring franchise, this third installment in the series does rely on the typical jump scares that have made this movie universe compelling to watch. Building a good reputation among moviegoers since the first film came out almost a decade ago, The Devil Made Me Do It starts with an interesting tease on a possible Church vs. State storyline before it devolves into the usual Ed and Lorraine Warren Show, leaving the promising subplot as a mere afterthought in favor of the occult.

But can we really blame the director? The duo has served as this cinematic universe’s anchor for almost a decade now, and Wilson and Farmiga are undoubtedly doing a very good job committing to their roles. With the wealth of paranormal material the real-life couple amassed through the decades, the producers will never really run out of storylines to deal with. It helps that they seem to have a knack for creating memorable characters such as Valak and Annabelle. The problem is that the trick is starting to get old and the characters, while unforgettable, tend to be underdeveloped most of the time.

This is one reason why expounding on the Church vs. State angle seems like a missed opportunity to solidify the characterization of the Warrens. We have seen them battle the supernatural onscreen for many years now. Wouldn’t it be intriguing to delve into their conflict with the institutions of the human world such as the courts this time around? Or perhaps how they were viewed by the media back then? But then again, where is the fun in that?

In an effort, perhaps, to avoid becoming a court room drama, the film remains to be yet just another addition to the growing list of the franchise’s filmography; scary to some extent indeed, but becoming more and more predictable with the release of every sequel. There will come a time when the moviegoing public will begin to feel as though they are just watching a rehashed storyline over and over again.

Or maybe I was just more interested in the legal drama unfolding behind the supernatural frontlines? Unfortunately, the film does not really focus much on that. The conclusion of that story that ties it to the real world is summarized with a montage of newspaper clippings and photos of the actual murder trial. Suffice it to say that if your curiosity is piqued, you won’t be getting a lot of answers in the movie itself. If you want to know more about what happened next to Arne Cheyenne Johnson, you will have to do the research yourself. Luckily, there is no shortage of media coverage online regarding his life story.

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