Movie Review – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
The filmmakers took what could have been a compelling legal and ethical drama and turned it into a messy piece of schlock. Based on what actually occurred, it’s not like The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). It’s not as if the filmmakers here had an incredible transcript of a crazy courtroom proceeding that they could then adapt into a narrative. The legal events here were rather anticlimactic. The hook was that a man killed another man in 1981 and claimed the reason was due to being possessed by a demonic spirit. Obviously, something like that would make headlines and be in the news. In real life, there was no trial, so there was nothing for people to chew. The idea of demonic possession was quickly tossed out and the man was convicted of manslaughter not long thereafter.
Yet, it’s an interesting idea that a man would try to use demonic possession as a defense in a murder trial. If this film wanted to run with that idea, it could have bent the truth, as it does with other things, and actually depicted a trial where this idea is essentially debated like a more horrific episode of The Good Wife (2009). I don’t bring up that CBS series by accident or at random. Robert and Michelle King, the married duo who created The Good Wife, created another legal drama called Evil (2019), the premise to which is that a group of people try to prove or disprove in a court of law whether or not a man is guilty of murder due to him being possessed by a demon. That TV show deals with the idea though from a legal, social and ethical standpoint in a way that this film, directed by Michael Chaves, never does.
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air and The Departed) stars as Lorraine Warren, a paranormal investigator who also claimed to have psychic powers. She was allegedly clairvoyant and a medium for spirits. She, along with her husband, traveled around the country looking into supernatural cases like so-called haunted houses. Her most famous case was what would then be turned into the film The Amityville Horror (1979). Like her husband, Lorraine is a person of faith and a devout Christian in many ways. When we see her here in 1981, she’s been married to her husband for more than 30 years and she has one daughter. She lives in Connecticut, which is where this murder case occurs.
Patrick Wilson (Aquaman and Watchmen) also stars as Ed Warren, the husband to Lorraine and a fellow paranormal investigator. He doesn’t really do much. One scene has Lorraine lead the charge and literally tell Ed to hold her purse. He’s basically just there as a person to whom Lorraine can talk. He also assists Lorraine in some instances, but he doesn’t bring much to this.
Ruairi O’Connor co-stars as Arne Johnson, the real-life man who brutally stabbed and killed another man and then claimed that he was possessed by a demon, using that briefly to try to get out of legal trouble. Instead of pursuing that legal trouble and debating it, the film skirts around it. In CBS’ Evil, the show makes the idea of demonic possession a legitimate question where one isn’t sure if the demonic possession is real or not. Here, there is no question. The film makes it clear that the demonic possession is real.
Again, this would be fine, as the film then becomes about Lorraine and Ed trying to prove the existence of demons in a court of law. At least, this film says that’s what it’s going to be about. However, it proceeds to not be about that at all. What it actually becomes is a lame thriller about Lorraine and Ed chasing after an even more lame witch who curses Arne. Instead of the devil or demonic possession being a metaphorical thing, this film makes it literal and physical in the way of this lame witch. Arne is arrested and held in prison. An exorcism, which involves Arne levitating in front of a prison guard, would presumably be enough to prove the existence of demonic possession, but the film ignores the implications of which.
What this film suggests is that the devil can possess people and make them do bad things. What the film never considers is the idea of God possessing people and making them do bad things as well. Plenty of terrorists, particularly Islamic terrorists, claim that their bad acts are the will of God. What would the Warrens think about that notion? What would they say about that? In 1998, a young man named Brandon Wilson was convicted of killing a little boy named Matthew Cecchi. Wilson claimed God told him to do it. That man was clearly labeled insane, but Lorraine and Ed believed Arne wasn’t insane or acted in an insane rage. The real-life case could have been exactly that, a man acting in an insane rage. But this film doesn’t even want to explore that, which makes it more boring than anything else.
Rated R for terror, violence and some disturbing images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.
In theaters and available on HBO Max.