The Conjuring The Devil Made Me Do It

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is possession-movie Mad Libs

The latest installment in the Conjuring series wastes an intriguing premise on stock demon thrills.

Stories of demonic possession clearly hold a fascination for the average North American moviegoer.

It is a fascination that I, for the most part, do not share. I have nothing against them, per se; obviously, there are great films about demonic possession and absolute garbage horseshit as well, which is roughly par for the course for any genre. Possession stories, however, are more or less always the same: the devil gets hold of some poor sap’s soul, messes them up and it’s up to some enterprising exorcist of some kind to find a solution. I think your average filmgoer’s response to a possession story has more to do with their own conception of faith and the presence of abstract notions of the devil in their lives, which is why it’s easy to keep churning these stories out time after time. 

All this to say that the latest installment of the Conjuring saga (the ninth overall installment though only the third to bear the Conjuring name) deserves some credit for attempting to tell a familiar story in a slightly different way. Based on the real-life story of Arne Johnson, a Connecticut man who was tried for murder in 1981 and who defended himself by claiming that the devil made him do it, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has a more procedural approach to the possession mythos that the film doesn’t exactly stick with throughout. Instead of a simple “this kid is possessed and we gotta make him unpossessed” storyline, the film tasks paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) with finding proof of possession after the fact. 

It’s an interesting premise that the film eventually forgoes for more traditional horror movie shenanigans, but The Devil Made Me Do It starts out strong with the exorcism of preteen David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), a rather intense affair that nevertheless ends with the kid’s brother in law Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) pleading with the devil to inhabit him instead. It seems to at least quell the devil’s passions, but they come roaring back later when Arne enters an altercation with his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) that ends with the landlord stabbed multiple times. Arne claims to have been under the spell of the devil at the time, so he consults with the Warrens, who confirm that Arne is, at the very least, no longer possessed. 

The Devil Made Me Do It dangles a carrot in front of us for a second that leads us to believe that it might very well be a courtroom drama in which a couple of paranormal investigators will have to prove the existence of the devil in a court of law before essentially dropping that thread altogether and focusing on the more common signifiers of paranormal investigation: séances and meetings with creepy old priests and Vera Farmiga crawling on all fours in a crawlspace filled with rats, eventually leading to the kind of cacophonous third act that typifies these types of movies. As I mentioned above, I don’t love this particular subgenre of horror but The Devil Made Me Do It remains a fairly competent example of them, even as it cycles through pretty familiar tropes and events.

It does beg the question: how much juice is left in this franchise? Though Wilson and Farmiga are relatively compelling figures and certainly more interesting than whatever basic cable actors might anchor the non-Conjuring version of this, the fact that The Devil Made Me Do It pretty rapidly does away with the fact-based portion of the story to move into more outré territory (the Arne Johnson thing really happened and the real-life Warrens were really involved with it, but… no spoilers… not like this) leads me to believe that we’ve perhaps seen the last of this whole thing.

Or maybe not. People do love their possessions. ■

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 4. Watch the trailer here:

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson

For more film and TV coverage, please visit our Film & TV section.