The third installment of the much-celebrated ‘The Conjuring series’ and the eighth film of the Conjuring Universe Horror Franchise-The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It-was made ready for release in September 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it till June 2021 when it was released in the US and on HBO Max simultaneously. Unfortunately, it could not be released in the Indian theatres again thanks to the pandemic. Since the HBO Max show-term was very short the Indian fans of the franchise have been wondering where to watch the movie, considering the way they were thrilled and intrigued by the haunted-house stories of The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring-2 (2016) with the adored real-life pair of the paranormal investigators Ed Warren and Lorraine Warren, played brilliantly by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in all of the flicks of the trilogy and in one of the Conjuring Universe franchise movies. Finally. Amazon Prime Video started streaming this movie from the 15th of December 2021, and the horror ‘fun’ has come roaring back in India.
As usual, the story of this film too is based on a real-life court case in 1981 where the murder accused, Arne Johnson, pleaded not guilty under the guise that ‘The Devil Made Him Do It’ as he claimed he was demonically possessed while committing the act; this kind of defense plea is for the first time in the US court case history. Ed and Lorraine Warren testified for Arne as they were convinced about the demonic possession and gave all their evidence in terms of captured camera images and videos. However, since such a premise could never have a legal basis, the accused was convicted and sentenced to 15-20 years of imprisonment; but he got out of jail in five years due to his exemplary behavior and that he married his girlfriend while still in jail. Dry court proceedings can never be an apt subject for a suspense-horror flick and therefore, a thrilling storyline and a script was built around the case.
The film opens with the scariest scene of the movie and perhaps one of the scariest scenes ever in horror cinema history. The scene depicts the exorcism of a little boy, maybe around 10 years of age, named David Glatzel with the presence of the stricken family, Ed and Lorraine and the exorcist. The chaotically horrifying developments that follow had better be watched than explained, with the results that Ed gets hurt and has a heart attack while the character of Arne Johnson (played by Ruairi O’Connor), boyfriend of David’s elder sister Debbie Glatzel (played by Sarah Catherine), looks into the eyes of the violent David and invites the demon to leave David and possess him, which, incredibly enough, happens. To my experience of horror films this is a new twist as it raises some questions: it seems to make the role of the exorcists rather dubious and that a demon or a ghost supposedly possesses someone with a definite purpose and so, why should it leave its prized victim! Anyway, this was necessary as a prologue for the reel-life Arne Johnson to go on to murder someone and face trial.
As compared to the earlier absolutely absorbing and tension-filled two films of the trilogy the third one lacks a flow of storytelling which is hampered by flashbacks, jerk-cuts and scenes left half-treated, jumping to other scenes and then coming back to the former. This can be interpreted as the stylistic treatment of the director, but it does not help storytelling keeping in mind the viewers’ continued involvement. For example, Ed Warren who suffered a heart attack probably rested for about a month (not clearly indicated) during which the demon in Arne preferred to do nothing atrocious. However, the moment Ed recovers with a telepathic dream he communicates to Lorraine to warn the police about an impending tragedy in the house of Arne’s employer and landlord. And inevitably, Arne in a sudden burst of possessive fit murders the landlord and is arrested by the police.
Now comes the real turning point of the story: Lorraine, with her super intuitive and psychic powers visualizes a grim connection of the Arne’s act with the murder and suicide of two young girls in the recent days. The police were yet to find the body of second girl who supposedly killed her friend in a fit of the same kind of demonic possession and then committed suicide. So, for the first time in the history of the trilogy the police join the investigations with the paranormal help of Ed and Lorraine, ultimately finding the submerged body of the second girl as Lorraine leads them through a dramatically crafted and a light-n-shadow scene, eminently worth watching.
With the ‘connection’ confirmed, Lorraine and Ed revisit the house of David, and Lorraine discovers a witch’s totem in the underground chambers of the house, filled with rats. The angle of the occult practices come in here, again for the first time, and Lorraine, convinced that the connection works both ways and it is in the process of completing a curse implying more murders, starts the hunt for the source of the evil-if it was an evil spirit or a devilish human being with supernatural powers should be avoided here, lest it becomes a spoiler. While the first half of the film is very engaging and tension-filled the second half becomes rather predictable. The climax, unfortunately, fails to shock-thrill the viewers.
But the film is immensely worth watching thanks to the intense performances, as usual, of the couple, Wilson and Farmiga, and also the jump-scares that come when not expected and do not come when expected, keeping the viewers guessing, particularly a scarily delightful scene of David jumping on a bubbling mattress as if filled with water and then something unexpected happening to him. The sequel, different from the other two as mentioned above, reminds us of a brilliant South Korean horror-mystery-suspense flick ‘The Wailing’ of which we wrote about recently.
‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ is not directed by James Wan who created the Conjuring Universe horror franchise with his Atomic Monster Productions and New Line Cinema of Warner Bros Entertainment thus completing the 20-year efforts led by Tony DeRosa-Grund and his team to make a series of films on the supernatural case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and directing the first movie of the franchise ‘The Conjuring’ in 2013. Huge commercial success of the first venture led to productions of supernatural horror sequels and prequels one after the other: Annabelle in 2014, The Conjuring-2 in 2016, Annabelle Creation in 2017, The Nun in 2018, The Curse of La Llorona in 2019, Annabelle Comes Home in 2019 and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It in 2021; the last is directed by Michael Chaves who made his directorial debut with a franchise film, ‘The Curse of La Llorona’. The Conjuring Universe has become the second highest-grossing horror franchise in Hollywood history and one of the most critically acclaimed. Almost all of the eight films have been huge commercial hits the world over with positive to mixed reviews. The franchise is at the moment working on two more horror films-the first being titled ‘The Crooked Man’ and the second film’s title, reported to be a sequel to ‘The Nun’, is to be announced.