The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a prison. For its lead actors, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, it feels like the cells confining them are contractual, as you can witness the defeated obligations in their eyes as they churn through the motions of the film’s tired, trope-filled screenplay and collect their paychecks. For the characters they play, Lorraine and Ed Warren, the film also incarcerates the legacy of these real-life paranormal investigators and traps them in the limits of the film’s credibility-diminishing storytelling. After an opening exorcism scene filled with deafening noises, CGI wind flurries, and shit being thrown around with no care in the world for any sense of authenticity, it’s clear the film favors fantastical franchise-building fuckery over the atmospheric world-building of 2013’s The Conjuring and to a lesser extent, its sequel, 2016’s The Conjuring 2. And as such, it immediately slams shut the allegorical jail cell doors on the viewer, locking them in a nearly-two-hour ordeal that feels like a life sentence.

Based on, as the tagline reads, “the demonic case that shocked America,” The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is mining for gold in the right places with its true story influences. It tells the story of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who was a defendant in the first known U.S. court case in which his innocence was sought to be proven based on claims of demonic possession. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t know at all what to do with this admittedly interesting material. It hopelessly flops around like a dying fish attempting to locate water and finding a heat lamp instead. A screenplay this bad honestly feels like it’s deliberately trying to be so, with absolutely no sense of timelines, momentum or anything to give this story the fascinating probe it deserves.

It rushes through the backstories, the possession and murder itself, and barely even bothers with what I’m sure was an engaging trial, instead choosing to place the Warrens in a banal investigatory plotline that attempts to prove Arne’s innocence while simultaneously cementing the film’s own guilt as a murderer of ingenuity. There is minimal, if any, originality to be found in this never-ending slog. It sacrifices scares for cacophony, practicing the all-too-frustrating belief that horror movies become scarier if they have a lot of loud noises coming at unexpected times. But if you’ve seen enough of these, those “unexpected times” are anything but, and you can predict the frights like clockwork.

There is simply zero craft or consideration put into the aesthetic environment here, especially when it comes to horror elements, and long gone are any of director James Wan’s trademarks from the first two films (Michael Chaves, director of Conjuring spinoff The Curse of La Llorona, takes the reins here). There are no grand orchestrations or careful compositions here, just scattered, unrelated pounds on the piano expecting you to call them melodies. In the end, it feels less like a film about the devil and more like a film that signed a contract with Satan himself – it’s soulless.

It feels less like a film about the devil and more like a film that signed a contract with Satan himself – it's soulless.
39 %
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