The Conjuring: the Devil Made Me Do It18
Here’s a question for you, do you know anyone who has ever been possessed? By a demon that is, not by a rage brought on by the stupidity of others. It’s a bit like asking if you believe in UFO’s, or God even, with the replies likely to split opinion.
For this third entry in The Conjuring franchise, it’s keen to state that the events that take place in the film are based on a real event. Clearly the most telling word missing from that statement is ‘loosely’, as demons make themselves known to one family in particular.
Little David Glatzel (Julian Hiliard) is behaving quite badly, which is out of character for him. It should come as a sense of relief to his family then that it’s not really his fault as he is possessed by a demon, but it doesn’t.
Not happy with their youngest being possessed, they call in the big guns, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), who have become quite proficient at dealing with the occult.
But things don’t quite go to plan, when the demon they confront gets the better of them, taking full control of David. But when Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a friend of the family and David’s sister’s boyfriend, intervenes and offers up himself to be possessed over David, the demon is surprisingly obliging.
But when both the family and the Warrens think it’s all over, Arne is arrested for murder, with his defence being that he didn’t do it, the demon in him did. With the legal world considering him a liar, the Warrens take it on themselves to prove that Arne really wasn’t himself at the time of the crime.
Not only is this the third film in The Conjuring franchise, it’s also the eighth film in the Conjuring Universe, joining films like the Annabelle films, as well as 2018’s The Nun and the following year’s The Curse of La Llorona.
Again the film follows the real-life adventures of the Warrens, with this entry focusing on what was indeed the real trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, whose defence was, as the film’s title suggests, that the devil made him do it.
Of course it wouldn’t be the Conjuring world if there wasn’t a teeny weenie bit of embellishment; the Warrens confront an evil demon – is there any other kind? – that has managed to get the better of them and their usual religious aids like holy water and crucifixes, causing a ne w level of chaos to deal with.
On a purely cinematic level, this works well; the evil entities are suitably scary, and they make for credible foes. Of course, the benchmark was set really high many years ago with William Friedkin’s iconic The Exorcist, which still manages a fright despite being released in 1973. This film doesn’t hold a holy candle to that, delivering a more sanitised style of fright, which is less likely to haunt your dreams for years to come.
On its treatment of being based on a true event, the film is far more wishy washy. The truth of it is that it’s a push to say that at least 10% of what takes place is true. There was indeed a trial that happened in 1981, that saw Arne on charges of murder, with his defence being that he was possessed. It’s a defence that had never been used before and therefore made history, which the film does cover. But to expect an audience to believe that the Warrens, a real couple, did in fact take on evil spirits, and kick their demon butts, and have that covered by the “based on a real event” tag is somewhat misleading. If you believed it happened, fair enough, but to imply that it was real event is another thing altogether.
The truly most horrifying aspect of this film however, has to be how dated the early eighties look. With Michael Chaves’ direction it looks surprisingly retro, and is likely to leave you feeling depressingly old rather than scared.
It’s a shame that The Conjuring franchise hijacked this story for its own means, as what actually did happen is a remarkably fascinating point in legal history, and deserved further examination, without the CGI demons wafting in and out. This is re-enforced by the film’s end credits, where they play back some of the original tapes recorded by the Warrens that are far more chilling than the entire film.
The film is a perfectly acceptable entry in the The Conjuring universe, just don’t expect it to re-define the horror genre in any demonic shape or form.