Eight movies into “The Conjuring” franchise the ghostbusting Warrens, Ed and Lorraine, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, face their most daunting adversary yet. They’ve battled evil in the form of haunted houses, supernatural spirits and a nasty doll named Annabelle, but in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” now playing in theatres, the married demonologists investigate a murder and a suspect who claims the devil made him do it.
Set in 1981 Connecticut, “The Devil Made Me Do It” is based on the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, the first case to attempt a defense claim of demonic possession.
The movie begins with a priest and the Warrens performing an exorcism on eight-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) that would give Regan MacNeil a run for her money. As all hell breaks loose, the demon leaves the youngster’s body and, after Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), the boyfriend of David’s sister taunts it, takes control of the older man. “Leave him alone!” Arne says to the demon. “He’s just a little boy you coward! Leave him alone and take me!”
Soon Arne’s behaviour changes and when he stabs his landlord twenty-two times, the Warrens set out to prove he is not guilty by reason of demonic possession. “The court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth,” Ed says. “I think it’s about time they accept the existence of the Devil.”
When Arne is charged in a Death penalty case, the Warrens spring into action to prove his innocence. “We won’t let him down,” Ed says. As the couple work to discover what is real and what is not, the case presents ever increasing personal danger.
“The Devil Made Me Do It” is more a procedural prompted by Arne’s actions than Arne’s story. He disappears for forty-five minutes or so as the Warrens decipher the mystery surrounding his crime. Director Michael Chaves keeps up the atmosphere of dread with a series of well-executed lighting effects, jump scares and eerie sound cues but, while he delivers some shocks, he knows that the real reason the “Conjuring” movies work is the relationship between Wilson and Farmiga. As the Warrens they are the earthbound anchor who add humanity to the supernatural goings on.
Sure, there is a devilish waterbed—anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s already knew waterbeds were bad, but the movie makes a convincing case for them as evil as well—and lots of Satanic Panic, but “The Devil Made Me Do It” isn’t all pentagrams and inverted crosses. It flags in the midsection, but by the time the end credits roll the relationship between the demon hunters is front and centre, a testament to the power of love. It may be a cliché but it adds some light to the film’s dark elements and gives Wilson and Farmiga some nice character-building moments.
The Warrens are unlikely horror heroes, but “The Devil Made Me Do It” proves you don’t have to be creepy to deliver the thrills.