‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ doesn’t impose enough scares

“The Conjuring:  The Devil Made Me Do It” – Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are a pair of genuine good eggs.  More than that, these two are lifelines and champions for innocent victims who face sinister, unnatural forces. 

The Conjuring Universe – which comprises of eight films – summons the Warrens for four, including the latest, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it”.  Now, the Warrens were a real-life married couple and paranormal investigators, and they passed away after living long, fruitful lives at the ages of 79 and 92 years old, respectively.  On-screen, Wilson and Farmiga are accomplished acting pros.  They share genuine support for each other’s characters, and not only are Ed and Lorraine loyal and caring to one another, but they work exceptionally well in solving troubling and downright frightening cases.  Moreover, they are trusted allies against things that go bump in the night…and during the day too. 

Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren

In the massively terrifying – at least to this critic – “The Conjuring” (2013) and the less effective but still worthy “The Conjuring 2” (2016) and “Annabelle Comes Home” (2019), they embrace ghost stories with defined boundaries.  The dutiful duo dives into data that triggered demons, possessions, and a malevolent doll, but those chilling circumstances were contained, and the scares and frights seem ever-present or at least seemed to linger close by.   

That’s not the case in director Michael Chaves and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s film.  Set in 1981, Ed and Lorraine are chasing down answers in Brookfield, Conn., but they face a meandering, long-winded mystery this time.  Unfortunately, this narrative feels like Chaves and Johnson-McGoldrick pile the Warrens in The Mystery Machine and set them on a wild goose chase, but not even Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo can wrap up this whodunit in 22 animated minutes. 

“The Conjuring 3” is a smorgasbord horror film tropes, including satanic worship, rams, totems, curses, possessions, hallucinations, and even an exorcism.  The more the better, right? Well…perhaps not. Admittedly, the opening few minutes deliver a pretty spectacular exorcism attempt, complete with gusty winds pouring through a house and an 8-year-old boy arching his best yoga bridge pose while snapping a few vertebrae in the process.

Ed and Lorraine are present, front-and-center, along with the loving Glatzel family and a local priest.  Their efforts to shed the devil from Master David Glatzel (Julian Hillard), who sort of resembles Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) from “A Christmas Story” or Ray Boyd (Jonathan Lipnicki) in “Jerry Maguire” (1996), are successful but not entirely.

Ruairi O’Connor as Arne Cheyenne Johnson

David’s sister’s boyfriend – Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) – commands the devil/demon/monster to take him instead.  Ask, and you shall receive.  Now, Arne’s possessed, and before you can say, “Uh oh,” he kills someone and faces a murder charge.

Now, Ed and Lorraine try to prove that something possessed Arne during the aforementioned bloody disgusting homicide – where he treated his victim (Ronnie Gene Blevins) like a human pincushion – so he’ll avoid life in prison. 

How do you unearth the devil?  Follow the clues, but very carefully.  While Ed and Lorraine determine what caused David’s/Ralphie’s/Ray’s and Arne’s demonic possessions, the narrative follows a dueling storyline of Mr. Johnson’s struggle in prison.  Whatever entity occupied him on the outside, it’s sometimes within him on the inside (pardon the pun).  

The movie spends endless minutes with Arne and his bizarre delusions, but the original fiend does not exactly seize him, so what’s going on here?  More importantly, do we care? 

Not particularly. 

Sure, Arne did perform a selfless act, but is he worth burning half the movie’s calories following his progress, or lack thereof, in jail?  Likewise, his girlfriend Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) isn’t given much to do other than say an occasional word of support and sit dutifully by and listen to Ed and Lorraine.

Then again, Arne and Debbie are real human beings, so at least Chaves is loyal to the source material.  Whether or not this tale is worth telling is another matter.  Spoiler alert: Ed and Lorraine will discover the source of the possession with a worthy villain, but this particular baddie is revealed way late into the story. Way too late.  

Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren

Still, the Warrens replaced Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) from the “Poltergeist” series as the most beloved supernatural hunters in cinema, so having them muddle through dry detective work and a few occasional nonsensical apparitions for almost two hours has some value.  Well, I’ll indeed watch another Ed and Lorraine adventure, but not this one again.  But, hey, at least no one said, “And I would’ve gotten away with it too…if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and Trailer credits: Warner Bros. Pictures

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