BAXTER — Who knew a horror movie could touch your heart even as it attempts to make your heart skip a beat?
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” aims to do just that with scenes in the nearly two-hour movie of obligatory terror and yet surprising tenderness between the protagonists.
Stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles in the sequel based on the true case files of married paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, respectively.
As with “The Conjuring” that came out in 2013 and “The Conjuring 2” that followed up on the first’s success, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” takes some dramatic liberties.
The new release jumps right into the scary action with its opening scene depicting the real-life exorcism of an 8-year-old boy in Brookfield, Connecticut, in 1981, who is at home with his family.
Before you can spit pea-green soup and turn your head 360 degrees, the child is foaming at the mouth, blood comes out of the showerhead and dishware comes flying out of the cabinets.
Arne Cheyenne Johnson, the boyfriend of the boy’s sister, helps restrain the child, but during the struggle for the child’s soul, Johnson invites the demon to pick on him instead, not the boy.
In a case of “be careful what you wish for,” the demon takes the young man up on his selfless offer and torments him to the brink of madness and suicide.
Johnson, who is played by Ruairi O'Connor, later kills his intoxicated and overbearing landlord in broad daylight, seemingly without provocation. The young man is charged with murder and faces the death penalty but pleads not guilty … by reason of demonic possession.
The outrageous (and previously unsuccessful) defense strategy by the Warrens is more than something the longtime partners cooked up to save Johnson’s proverbial skin but rather the couple’s wholehearted belief that sinister forces are at work.
The core facts of the court case or criminal investigation are undisputed — Johnson killed a man — but whether or not it was of his own free will or volition is something a jury has to decide.
O'Connor captures the essence of a frightened, confused and bewildered young man who cannot believe he ended another’s life but also cannot explain his uncharacteristic actions.
“The court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth. I think it's about time they accept the existence of the devil.”
— Ed Warren, paranormal investigator
The legal proceedings make national headlines, and on trial is whether or not evil exists. And if so, can that evil compel a person to act criminally but without arguably moral responsibility.
“The court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth. I think it's about time they accept the existence of the devil,” Ed Warren says at one point.
A witch’s totem is discovered below the boy’s family home, which Lorraine Warren believes was cursed, but who placed it and why remains a mystery and it’s questionable if they can find out in time.
In one particularly frightening throwback to the early ‘80s, a waterbed takes on a life of its own and would understandably and possibly make anyone wet his pants in that situation.
Lorraine Warren is gifted with a personal connection to the spirit world and claims to see things others cannot in the new release from New Line Cinema. Her husband makes no such claim but rather is her protector from more tangible, instead of otherworldly, threats.
The relationship between the two as played by Farmiga and Wilson anchors the sometimes arguably far-fetched feature film. Their bond as equal parts of a powerhouse couple willing to risk their lives for others and to save the innocent from bodily harm is undeniably admirable.
“The Conjuring” — the movie that started it all — was directed by James Wan, who also directed “Saw” and “Insidious,” two other horror properties that spawned franchises of their own.
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” was the top movie at the domestic box office this weekend, playing in cineplexes such as the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Pequot Lakes.
Both theaters recently resumed daily showings of new releases that were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic or only offered on select days such as the weekend.
The R-rated film also opened in IMAX theaters nationwide on Friday, June 4, and will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from the date of its theatrical release. But the gasps, squeals and screams I heard in the theater audience would be hard matched in a home setting.
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick co-wrote the screenplay with the movie’s director as he did with “Aquaman,” which was also directed by Wan, who is of Chinese descent.
The real Lorraine Warren died of natural causes in 2019 at age 92. She acted as a head consultant on all of The Conjuring projects. Her husband preceded her death in 2006 at the age of 79.
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is the most recent installment in the Conjuring Universe, a supernatural horror film franchise that began in 2013 that includes other frightful motion pictures such as “Annabelle” from 2014 and “The Nun” from 2018.
“The Conjuring” sequel holds a 58% approval rating among critics and a better 84% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.
The consensus from the critics at RottenTomatoes.com: “‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ represents a comedown for the core Conjuring films, although Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson keep the audience invested.”