Review: 'The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It' brings nerve-rattling chills

Review: 'The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It' brings nerve-rattling chills

06/04/2021

Is exorcism played out? Not in this freaky frightfest based on the first U.S. murder trial where demonic possession was used as a legal defense. So step up for “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” now in theaters, Imax and on HBO Max — all good places to scream your head off.

PHOTO: Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren in a scene from "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It."

Look, this thriller is not a documentary. Facts have been altered, characters composited and truth stretched to the snapping point. If you have a problem with that or demonology as a science, the third and weakest chapter in the hit “Conjuring” series is probably not for you.

On the plus side, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are both back in bracing form as Ed Warren and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine, real-life paranormal investigators whose sweet-natured romance and retro fashions continue to give us a love story to root for amid the horrors that actually give Ed (true detail) a heart attack.

It’s a shame that the great James Wan, who directed the first two Warren conjurings with preternatural skill, didn’t materialize for this one. But Michael Chaves (“The Curse of La Llorona”) gets the job done even minus the Wan magic with high-style mayhem. . Still, it’s a kick to see Ed and Lorraine — those God-fearing ghostbusters who worked the “Amityville Horror” case — get out of haunted houses and into a larger world of legal battles in which they play detective to help the ever-skeptical police.

PHOTO: Keith Arthur Bolden as Sgt. Clay, Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren and  Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren in a scene from "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It."

The Warrens are both gone now — Ed in 2006 and Lorraine in 2019 — but their voluminous 1 files are a fertile ground for dramatization. None more bizarre than the 1981 case of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), the hapless 19-year-old who asserted the devil made him stab his landlord 22 times with a pocket knife. That’s some conjuring.

Arne had been present at the Connecticut exorcism of eight-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), the brother of his girlfriend Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), leading kindly Arne to tempt the demon to enter him instead of the kid. It’s the old “Exorcist” trick and it still works.

But was Arne really possessed when he killed his landlord? The Warrens, both present at the exorcism, said yes, insisting with Christian fervor that if the court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth, why not accept the existence of the devil?

It’s a loaded, OK ludicrous, question with which the movie fails to tangle. Trial junkies will be sorely disappointed at the lack of court scenes set during the so-called “Demon Murder Trial,” except to note that judge threw out the “devil” plea and tried Johnson for manslaughter.

Instead the movie adds filler about an occultist (eerie Eugenie Bondurant), who the Warrens believe put a curse on the participants that led to the exorcism and the murder. Cogent claims that the Warrens cooked up the defense for a book and movie deal are suspiciously ignored.

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If “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” falls apart on close examination, it is still hooey of a crazily entertaining nature. Did box-office demons compel the filmmakers to blur authenticity in favor of nerve-rattling chills geared to scare us senseless? Guilty as charged. But breathless audiences exhilarated by the ride are unlikely to find that a punishable offense.

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