It is the way of franchises that, with a few notable exceptions, they sequel themselves into diminished returns that eventually test even the most ardent fans. And so it is with THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, a pale reminder of what we loved about the original, with no actual reason to love this installment. Based, very loosely, on the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, this outing has as its inspiration the time that the supernatural investigators did, in fact, help with a murder defense that argued the accused was not guilty by reason of demonic possession. With Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga back as the devoted couple with an adorable relationship to each other and a serious one to the occult, a more faithful telling of that story would have been fascinating. Instead, we have a startlingly pedestrian story about a curse and the Warrens facing more than spiritual harm as they tangle directly with a summoned demon and the Satanist who called it forth.
We start, where else, with an exorcism. The exorcee is a doughty eight-year-old by the name of David (Julian Hilliard), who has made deep claw marks in the wall and exhibits the expected contortions associated with demonic possession. That the filmmakers were toying with the idea of going full camp is hinted when the priest, summoned by the Warrens when things get even more out of hand, arrives at the house and the scene is a copy of the priest’s arrival in THE EXORCIST. Camp would have been fun, and not an impediment to the banter between the Warrens that we’ve come to know and love. Alas, it goes another way.
That way is a turgid exercise in predictability and hooey that fails even the internal logic test, but is tricked out with some nifty tracking shots and first-rate cinematography. The latter is so good that it makes me hope someone will take the footage and dub different dialogue onto it. It certainly couldn’t be worse.
Meanwhile, back at the exorcism, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), who is dating David’s sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook), commits the cardinal sin of speaking directly to the demon possessing the little boy. Not only that, but he offers to take the boy’s place as host for the creature. Of course the demon takes him up on it, something that only Ed notices, but, alas, it was in the middle of a heart attack so it is several days until he and Lorraine are able to warn anyone. Further alas, the warning comes just after Arne, an otherwise nice guy, stabs someone to death, sinking the knife into the victim 22 times.
From here it’s wicked totems, a water bed with a mind of its own, and a late-night visit to a funeral parlor by the Warrens where visions rife with clues ensue. There’s also a chicken-farming ex-priest (John Noble) who explains that Satanists don’t have reasons aside from causing chaos; the mystery of why the demon is only a part-time resident of Arne’s corpus; and a genuinely entertaining interlude as the Warrens convince a skeptical police detective (Keith Arthur Bolden) that there Is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in anyone’s philosophy.
While Wilson and Farmiga are engaging as we also explore the early days of the Warrens’ romance, even when the dialogue fails them, the supporting cast is less so. O’Connor is bland, even when floating mid-air with a glass shard to his throat, and Hook is bubbly in a generic way that falls flat over time. Even the effects, while executed with technical perfection, feel tired, with nothing novel to recommend the red lighting or boiled-white eyes.
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT shares audio of the actual exorcism under the credits, along with a few clips of the Warrens themselves. It’s not worth the slog to get there.