What makes The Conjuring franchise James Wan created so popular? Plenty of people love some horror thrills, first off. There are plenty of subgenres of horror but Wan has taken a hold on the supernatural. The bar he set with the first two The Conjuring films as well as Insidious but cinephiles on notice. Before you knew it, a whole universe of creepy entities took over the genre. Everyone knows Annabelle, the haunted doll that has spawned three films on its own. The Nun has gotten her own as well and I am still waiting for The Crooked Man to wander onto the screen again to scare everyone.
But what happens when someone else hops into the driver’s seat for a proper The Conjuring sequel? Apparently, this time around did not deliver a whole lot of success. Michael Chaves, who previously joined this franchise with the hated spin-off called The Curse of La Llorona, takes his talents to the third The Conjuring film…but with a twist! But what is the twist? This one is not a haunted house flick. This time around we are treated to a murder mystery involving the occult. This a fresh take for The Conjuring formula…but does it pay off?
What does work? The parts of the film focusing on Ed & Lorraine Warren doing some detective work (either through investigating (Ed) or supernatural means (Lorraine) are interesting. They might feature a little too much exposition, but they show the talents of our leads. Speaking of which, the Warrens are incredibly likable and lovely characters whose love is so endearing. I love these characters and whenever they appear in this franchise (even for a prolonged cameo in Annabelle Comes Home) they elevate the material. Patrick Wilson and especially Vera Farmiga are excellent talents who are believable and genuine in each of their scenes. The world that they inhabit is fully realized as well. The timely music fit well including a creepy usage of a Blondie jam. The production design is top-notch, and the costumes are perfect (those clothes that Lorraine rocks are iconic at this point and so are Ed’s sideburns). There are still a few genuine scares sprinkled throughout the film including an effective exorcism scene and a creepy rest on a waterbed.
Those are a few great things to brag about, right? But unfortunately, there are just as many negatives. Chaves’ direction lacks the quality and tension building that Wan’s does. Between the horror scenes, this film can be quite bland and slow. Even when there should be plenty of scares, the suspense and tension is just lacking. Don’t get me wrong, we get some great visuals and fun camera work, but when you need to scare the audience…you need to deliver. Where the previous The Conjuring films deliver unique technical achievements and heart, this third edition leans too heavily into the tropes of the genre. There are literal recreated shots from better films (like The Exorcist). Besides the quality performance of child actor Julian Hilliard, the family unit affected by this occultist curse are bland and not interesting. When the film spends time with them, it becomes increasingly less interesting. But the biggest sin must be a flat and forgettable antagonist. The bar is high with so many memorable and unnerving beings in this franchise. This third installment features probably the blandest and least interesting of the whole franchise.
But when all is said and done, is The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It a worthy addition to the franchise? I have never seen Annabelle (which was universally panned). But I have seen both the entirely forgettable The Curse of La Llorona and the consistently cringey The Nun. This is better than that. David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation and Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home are quality yet flawed entries. This falls below them for me. But they all pale in comparison to Wan’s own one-two punch of The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. If you want some genre fun and a trip to the movies (or a stream on HBO Max), go ahead and give The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It a try.