After a four year period playing second fiddle to the various creepy bastards who live rent-free in their basement, it’s finally time for horror’s First Couple to take centre stage once again in what’s only the third entry of the main series in the entire Conjuring connected universe. However, there’s been some shake-ups behind the scenes since Lorraine and Ed Warren last squared off against a demonic nun in a small house in Enfield and the major one is that human franchise machine James Wan is no longer directing, having cast his eye to his mysterious new project Malignant and has instead handed helming duties over to Michael Chaves, the guy who made the so-so Curse Of La Llorona. However, there’s changes in front of the camera too as the usual exorcising shenanigans that usually go on in a Conjuring movie have been augmented by the inclusion of some paranormal police work as this time the Warren’s strive to prove that demonic possession was the cause of a brutal mass murder. Will these noticable alterations to an established formula allow the Conjuring Universe to scare up some new highs or is it the beginning of the end for the beloved Warrens?
We rejoin the ghostbusting couple in the midst of a harrowing exorcism as they try to draw an evil spirit out of the 8 year old child of the Glatzel family like pus from a boil only for things to go a bit sideways. While Lorraine and Ed are successful in de-spooking the boy, Ed suffers a debilitating heart attack and worse yet, the spirit sneakily bounces over to Glatzel family friend, Arne Johnson who a while later succumbs to the supernatural invasion and brutally murders his landlord.
After a short recuperation in hospital Ed’s health isn’t exactly amazing, but both he and his wife throw themselves into trying to help Arne beat what seemingly is an open and shut muder case by attempting the impossible: convincing a court of law that demonic possession exists.
While Arne faces a very likely death sentence, the spirit that supposedly fled the scene after the murders returns to set up shop in his body in order to get the poor sap to take his own life which clues the Warrens into the fact that this is no average, ordinary possession (if one such thing exists) and their investigation leads them down a path that suggests that this latest adversary may be of the fleshy, tangible human variety which would mean this recent rash of demonic body-jackings is premeditated and has purpose. Can Lorraine and Ed uncover the identity of this mystery ocultist before more lives are lost and more importantly, will Ed’s dicky ticker manage to hold out long enough so watch his tenacious wife’s back?
So even though I’m not as enamoured of the Conjuring Universe as some, even I have to agree that after popping up here and there in other movies (most prominently in their extended cameo for Annabelle Comes Home), it’s legitimately great to have the Warren’s return properly to their own franchise once again. While other horror series mostly choose to focus on the returning exploits of it’s villains (Freddy, Jason, Jigsaw), The Conjuring is that rare string of fright flicks that opts to keep the spotlight on it’s heroes, chiefly that of the rock solid marriage of it’s hitched protagonists. More than snaggle-toothed devil Nuns or jaundice faced dolls, it’s actually the relationship between the two lead characters that’s proven to be the real lynchpin in the series and probably goes to explain why the Conjuring spinoffs have yet to match the quality of the headlining series.
The loss of James Wan from the directing chair is keenly felt, but isn’t that affecting – although Chaves lacks the particular knack Wan has for innovative scare scenes, opting to ape the style of keeping a character looking one way that little bit too long before loudly assaulting them from the other directon.
The option to finally leave the haunted house set nature of the series in favour of a whodunnit with a demonic possession angle (who-cursed-it?) also proves to be a welcome but flawed shift as it means that the stuff a Conjuring movie usually ends with actually kicks off the film. A spirited exorcism involving the usual contorting and screaming may not strictly be anything we haven’t seen before but it’s well done; but the second half of the film is made weaker by the fact that the cast is scattered by the time the climax comes around with the action split between a prison hospital getting an unholy face lift and the Warren’s wandering around some subterranean tunnels searching for their quarry. Much like the newest Saw film, Spiral, it’s highly commendable that a long running franchise is willing to shake shit up a bit, but you can’t help but feel the urgency is missing a little and the lack of any truly iconic ghosts is keenly felt with the introduction of a very flesh and blood human antagonist who looks hauntingly like Doug Jones’ twin sister. With this introduction of satanists into the main run of films, you can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers have inadvertently turned off that dripping tap of marketable ghosts they can bleed for spin-offs (still waiting for that Crooked Man movie by the way…), although a mention of a sect known as the Order Of The Ram sounds fairly lucrative. That being said, the otherworldly creatures featured here do their job in their chosen set pieces with a run in with wrestler-sized zombie in a funeral home and a genuinely creepy moment involving a water bed being memorable but it’s missing James Wan’s ability to make these ghouls truly iconic.
Speaking of iconic, let’s get back to the ridiculously loved up Warrens, who raise the game of everything around them thanks to the always dependable presence of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson who are still as good, if not better, than ever. The plot point that the ever reliable Ed has now lost a step thanks to his demon assisted heart attack is a good one and much drama in subtly mined by the fact that his health now simply doesn’t guarantee that he’s going to be there to watch his beloved Lorraine’s back as she’s mentally tackling the other side head on.
Not a patch on the original two Conjuring movies but still miles ahead of all those peripheral titles that dangles off the sides, The Devil Made Me Do It still gives us all the Warren stuff we desire but runs out of cool ghost stuff way before the end.
Three stars: sorry guys, the movie made me do it.