I remember seeing James Wan’s The Conjuring for the first time in 2017 and being completely petrified during the entire runtime to the point where I couldn’t sleep at night. The film was so effective at utilizing familiar horror cues, such as jump scares, and reinventing them in a way where it would fit its increasingly eerie atmosphere and become amazingly scary.
Wan is extremely literate with classic horror and knows exactly how to subvert tropes to pull the audience in, and his two Conjuring films are the only good pictures in this ever-expansive “cinematic universe” filled with pedantic spinoff films such as the Annabelle trilogy (with a somewhat decent middle chapter by David F. Sandberg), the dreadful The Nun and the awfully generic The Curse of La Llorona.
When it was announced that La Llorona filmmaker Michael Chaves would helm the latest installment in the saga of Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, warning signs were already flashing in the back of my mind. Not only was La Llorona a terribly ordinary horror film filled with the most predictable and unimaginative jump scares you can possibly think of, it also had a drab digital aesthetic and an extremely convoluted story. The streak continues for Chaves, as The Devil Made Me Do It manages to turn the most exciting supernatural horror I’ve seen since Richard Donner’s The Omen into a tedious jump scare-filled picture that’s not only uninterested in what it wants to say, but is also exceedingly unscary.
The film does start promisingly, however, with a cathartic exorcism scene with many cues recalling William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, such as the famous shot of a hat-wearing priest looking out at the house where he’ll perform the exorcism. Unlike Father Merrin, the priest (barely) survives the exorcism and causes Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) to have a heart attack. After the possessed child, David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), performs gruesome contortions with his body and almost kills Ed, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), asks the demon to take him instead of David, which it does.
Ed and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) now investigate the origins of the demon that possessed David and Arne, which is quickly revealed to be a curse. This opening scene supposedly sets the stage for what’s to come: effective scares with several “oh my god” moments sprinkled throughout. However, after its traditional text crawl, the movie stops dead in its tracks and starts becoming the most generic horror film I’ve seen since The Curse of La Llorona.
After its opening scene, The Devil Made Me Do It rapidly turns into predictable fluff, with jump scares featuring horribly loud musical cues and fake outs you see coming a mile away. Here’s the thing: there is nothing more annoying than a predictable jump scare. Jump scares aren’t scary — they’re either obnoxiously loud, formularized or both. The only film that was able to achieve the overuse of jump scares in recent memory was Andy Muschietti’s 2017 remake of It, but only after it established Pennywise as a terrifying creature. The projector scene is a classic example of that—you can see the scare coming a mile away, but you don’t expect to see Pennywise leaping out of the screen and running to attack the children.
The Devil Made Me Do It strictly uses the jump scare with the intent of giving the audience an adrenaline rush, and make them think that it’s scary, but when you exactly know when it’s going to happen, without any suspension of disbelief, it then becomes very hard to impress, even if the film desperately wants to.
The Devil Made Me Do It wants to impress with jump scares, because it doesn’t have a compelling story to tell. It has a shell of an interesting story, but never fully fleshes it out and, as a result, becomes confusing. I’ll admit that, during the final act, I had absolutely no clue what was going on with Ed and Lorraine. The film is so busy setting up the next jump scare that it completely forgets about crafting a great story to invest the audience in. Heck, before any legitimate scares happened, the first Conjuring film sets up interesting characters and a somewhat decent story before blowing the audience away and traumatizing them in the process.
The only ones that truly seem to care in this instalment are, of course, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. Their chemistry is as good as it ever was, and they’re also the only convincing actors in the entire film. Every other character is either thinly developed and/or performed in a way you’ll immediately forget about after walking out of the theatre. Everyone seems so uninterested in trying to figure out the film’s non-mystery that it becomes very easy for us audience members to check out and stop giving a damn.
It really is a shame, because the previous Conjuring films (not the spinoffs) cared about the story they were telling — always setting up the story before the scares, and building it in a way that it became incredibly effective once the pin drops would happen, because the audience would be invested in the story. In The Devil Made Me Do It, the scares happen too quickly, too many times, without any story being initially set-up.
Jump scares aren’t scary, as I’ve previously mentioned, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It really wants you to think they are terrifying. Yet, there’s nothing terrifying about speakers cranking up to 11, in a Merzbow-like sound design, in which the film’s quieter sequences have barely perceptible dialogues, almost as if the characters are whispering to one another, but the so-called “scary scenes” are overbearingly loud. If this film will be your return to theatres, be forewarned that it could be the loudest film you’ll see all year.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is only loud for the sake of being loud, because it’s apparently cooler to experience loud noises on the big screen and have a collective experience of the most formulaic haunted house sounds you could ever imagine. Yes, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are excellent, but it’s clearly not enough to save the movie from being something else other than an unimaginative bore, filled with cheap “scares” and an uninteresting story that’s not even being fleshed out for its audience. It’s finally time to retire this franchise once and for all, unless Wan miraculously comes back. If not, lock it in the Warrens’ MacGuffin room forever and ever, until someone (unfortunately) opens it again.
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The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It desperately wants to impress with an overbearing amount of cheap jumpscares, but it just won't be anything more than a generic (and loud) horror movie.
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