The latest installment to the “Conjuring” series, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” is not inventive, nor does it instill any profound sense of terror for the viewer, which is essential for any good horror movie. This film, the eighth in the "Conjuring" universe, does not offer anything new to its own mythos or to the supernatural horror genre, though it’s definitely not without a few positive moments.
With perhaps vain optimism, I have been chasing that terrifying high that was the first “Conjuring” movie, which came out nearly seven years ago. But this film failed to meet the standards of its predecessors and my own expectations.
The film follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators and demonologists, as they take on a case where a young man, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, pleads to a court of law that demonic possession was responsible for him stabbing his landlord. The story is based on a 1981 case where demonic possession was used for the first time as a legal defense.
The opening of the film is the highlight of its running time and was as close as I got to the visceral fear I remember so vividly from the first “Conjuring” movie. Starting with the exorcism of a young child, the opening suitably offered some well-received “Exorcist” references, like a scene where the daunted priest in charge of the exorcism looks towards the house, ablaze with some ancient and perverted evil.
Harkening back again to the the 1973 classic “The Exorcist,” the most frightening scene of the film takes place when the demon-possessed eight-year-old boy contorts to ungodly ends like some satanic pretzel, masterfully matched with quality and absolutely revolting sound-design. The body contortions were the most memorable scares of the film, as my own body convulsed with the violent crunch of every snapping bone.
The film undoubtedly delivers in its actual production, which unfortunately makes the film even more disappointing. With such a high production value in sound design, editing and cinematography, one would expect a better delivery of the story.
With the Warrens traveling across Connecticut in their investigations, the demonologists were not isolated to one place, which made it difficult to establish a captivating and atmospheric space which has grown to be a staple of the main “Conjuring” films.
The Perron house of the first film and the Hodgson house in the second use every inch of empty space to invite an opportunity for apprehensive dread. It’s a pity, considering how well the two other “Conjuring” films explored their own spaces; now with this new film using the same old smoke and mirrors, it’s clearly more dependent on body horror than anything else.
But even when the film has an opportunity to establish a foreboding atmosphere, it fails to take that chance. For example, it doesn’t even try to make the prison holding the demonically possessed Johnson even slightly scary. It seems as though the film is torn between showing the Warrens investigating the occult and Johnson suffering from his demonic possession, with both aspects of the story sacrificing quality and screen time. Furthermore, the film spends a lot of time explaining the occult without really adding anything to the atmosphere or plot of the story.
Perhaps one culprit of the film’s lack of scariness is the uninteresting villain of the film: the satanist whose duty it is to bring a soul back to hell. Say what you will about the “Annabelle” films or the “The Nun” spin-off, but rarely has any character from horror films of the last decade entranced the public like those two terrifying antagonists. This new villain at best provides a strong adversary to Lorraine Warren, and at worst, reminds me of the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg in appearance.
One can see a deviation from the tone of the first “Conjuring” film as early as the second installment to the main storyline. It’s clear that as the series progressed, it became more stylized, the budget became more expensive and the series became more Hollywood, so to say. And while this is not necessarily a bad thing, in this case, it cheapens the film and the series as a whole to blank shadows and empty echoes of the first film, with only taunting remnants of the raw, creative energy that made the series so successful in the first place.
What was most disappointing was not the plot nor the structuring of the story, as a good horror movie does not need a good story to be scary. Rather, it was a failure to draw me into the fictional world, and as a consequence, reduced the film to another compilation of sometimes well-earned, sometimes cheap jumpscares.
Of the three main “Conjuring” films, the third is the least scary, as it failed to hold me in that constant state of unbridled paranoia like the previous films did. If you’re looking for a good scare, this isn’t the movie to watch.
Gabriel Biadora is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora