Horror movies often make do with less than accomplished actors, and that’s being kind.
The genre is known for casting unknowns, only to have them sliced and diced in short order. It’s one reason the “Conjuring” films stand out. They’re anchored by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens, underrated vets who bring everything they have to the franchise.
Their presence elevates “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” the third film in the series. Once again their passion, bravery and romance elevate mundane moments. What the duo can’t do is make sense of an incoherent third act and a “true” story that demands more than the screenplay delivers.
Lorraine and Ed Warren are in the thick of another spiritual nightmare as the threequel opens. It’s 1981, and a young lad’s soul has been usurped by an evil spirit. The Warrens join a priest to perform an exorcism, a scene so indebted to the 1973 horror classic there’s a visual shout-out screaming the obvious.
We can never, ever top “The Exorcist,” but we can turn the horror volume up to 11 and try.
And, you know what, it works.
From there the main story kicks in. The possessed boy is saved when his sister’s beau, Arne (an excellent Ruairi O’Connor) demands the demon leave the boy and enter his body.
Later, the kind-hearted Arne is inspired to kill a local drunk by said demon, and he’s put on trial for murder. But … but … the devil made him do it, the Warrens argue, and suddenly the “Conjuring” saga is a courtroom drama.
Not so fast.
It’s actually “CSI: Exorcist,” as the Warrens make the case that demonic possession is a viable defense. That sends the couple on a mild goose chase to crack a similar crime, a narrative that takes us away from Arne and his devoted girlfriend (Sarah Catherine Hook).
Bad move. The young couple is the film’s sly strength.
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The more the Warrens explore a murder-disappearance case, the less enthralling the sequel becomes. Sure, the film trots out a scare sequence every 15 or so minutes, but these moments lack the sizzle franchise director James Wan brought to the predecessors.
Wan let Michael Chavez take over this time, and the “Curse of La Llorona” director brings the visual panache but not the chills.
“The Devil Made Me Do It,” like past “Conjuring” titles, is based on a true story. Take that with the proverbial salt grain, but the film does a poor job connecting the real trial to the Warrens’ on-screen actions.
That’s fine. It’s a horror movie. It still doesn’t explain away the muddled third act, filled with head-scratchers and noise where coherent scares are required.
“Devil” suggests an intriguing future for the on-screen Warrens. The pair could power a limited series, letting Farmiga and Wilson lean into their characters without the dependence on jump scares and CGI creepers. These stars deserve nothing less.
HiT or Miss: “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is a welcome visit with Lorraine and Ed Warren, but the newest story doesn’t live up to the power couple’s past.