For the first time in the Warrens’ filmography, James Wan is not in the director’s chair in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and even casual moviegoers will likely be able to tell you that upon watching this installment. With Michael Chaves (The Curse of la Llorona) at the helm, we see the Warrens investigate a murder in which the accused cites demonic possession as his defense. The Warrens, we’re shown, do have some insight into this claim, having witnessed during a botched exorcism in the opening scene the transference of a demonic entity from 8-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) to Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor). During the exchange, Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) is felled with a heart attack, keeping him out of commission as the only witness to this event until it’s too late to stop the subsequent murder.
One thing that stands out very quickly in this film is that, while there are periods of tension, it lacks the same oppressive atmosphere of the first two films, opting instead for what amounts to a game of cat and mouse between the Warrens and a satanist responsible for placing the curse in the first place. Any elements of lore, such as the identity of the demon or spirit itself, as we saw with Bathsheba and Valek in the prior films, are largely stripped away to the detriment of the film. Instead, we get a lot of hallucinations, two-way psychic communication similar to Star Wars: The Last Jedi as Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and the satanist, credited in the film simply as “The Occultist”, not only see but directly interact with one another’s environments via a third-party connection of a cursed individual.
We don’t know the limits of the occultist’s powers, nor do we know her motives. In fact, we’re told outright she has no motives other than a fascination with satanism and sowing chaos. That’s from her own father in the film, by the way. She has no character beyond being evil and for some reason has started a curse that requires the lives of three archetypes -sorry, souls: the man of God, the lover, and the child. While you may assume the missing girl in the film, found later to be dead, and the initial murder victim would constitute two of the three souls, you would be mistaken as the curse first calls for the three to commit murder and then take their own lives. In this sense, the occultist falls well short of her goal, and the transference of the demon from the child to Arne, a 20-something-year-old man raises questions as to how and why that would even count toward the curse’s parameters.
While The Conjuring 3 isn’t a bad film but it’s easily the worst of the primary thread in The Conjuring universe, and the choice to bring in Chaves, the director of perhaps the worst installment in the cinematic universe was a misstep right out of the gate. Wilson and Farmiga are solid in their roles as always but they’re given little to work with. The absence of lore leaves the story feeling more than a little bare, while the limitations of subject matter to be explored by the “devil made me do it” case in general only serve to further hamper the script.
Midway through the film, the Warrens break off on a tangent to solve another murder in order to see case files potentially relating to their own case. While this other mysterious death is actually tied to their investigation, it nonetheless feels like a fetch-quest for some 20 minutes of runtime and leaves you to wonder when the film will get back to the main plot.
Short on scares, thin on plot and depth, The Devil Made Me Do It would have been better off if the producers had made Wan do it instead.