It’s another blast from the past as cinema’s favourite demonologists are called to a nearby leafy Connecticut town to assist in the exorcism on an 8-year-old boy. But this case demonic possession proves to be more complicated than the ones Ed and Lorraine Warren are used to, as it appears that the boy was specifically targeted by someone who had unholy intentions.
Based on the Warrens’ real-life investigation and the subsequent trial of Arne Johnson, who was the first murder defendant in American legal history to plead not guilty by reason of demonic possession, THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT opens with the exorcism on David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard, TV’s WANDAVISION) in 1981. While the demon spirit is busy trashing the Glatzel’s house and causing Ed (Patrick Wilson, AQUAMAN) to have a heart attack, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor, TV’s THE SPANISH PRINCESS), the boyfriend of David’s older sister, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), pleads with it to take him instead of the boy. Suddenly, the indoor whirlwind stops, an ambulance is called to take Ed to the hospital and everyone’s life goes back to normal. But the spirit has other plans and, before long, Arne brutally murders his scumbag of a boss. Now Ed and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga, ANNABELLE COMES HOME) have to prove that the devil made him do it and their search for proof takes them to a retired priest named Kastner (John Noble, TV’s FRINGE), who has experience dealing with satanic cults.
With any of the films in THE CONJURING universe, plot holes and suspension of belief are the norm but this entry takes those to a whole new level. There is so much that just doesn’t make sense here including: 1. What happened to David and Debbie’s parents the morning after the exorcism and Ed’s heart attack? 2. Why did everyone except Ed think that it was over once David was dedemonized and especially after Arte said “Take me!”? Had they never seen THE EXORCIST? 3. What kind of parents let their 8-year-old child go visit a murderer in jail even if he is their older child’s boyfriend? And then there’s the matter of why David was targeted. That question is finally answered but it’s so hokey that it elicited a round of snorts and guffaws from my audience. The story’s biggest disappointment, however, comes from the murder trial itself. After Ed and Lorraine advise Arne’s lawyer that she should argue the case based on the existence of the devil, the story veers back to the Warrens’ search for what or who is behind this demonic possession without ever showing us how the lawyer did it, much less how she, herself, is convinced that this is going to be a winning legal strategy.
But fans of the franchise don’t watch these films for their plots. They come for the jump scares and the film’s first act delivers plenty of those. Then it doesn’t and there are long stretches where you would be forgiven for yawning. Perhaps the fault lies with director Michael Chaves, whose last film, THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA, which is also part of THE CONJURING universe, failed to impress most people. THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, a line made famous in the early 1970s by comedian Flip Wilson, is just uninspired and that feeling even goes as far as Chaves’ song choice to close the film out. It’s Van Morrison’s “Brand New Day”, which might be okay had it not have already been used in more than a dozen of movies and TV productions in the past five years alone. The inspired choice would have been Captain & Tennille’s big hit from 1975, “Love Will Keep Us Together”. If you do watch the film, you’ll know why.
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT opened in cinemas globally last weekend. It’s also on HBO Max where available. The only good thing about it is that it reminded me of Flip Wilson… and Captain & Tennille.
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