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"THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT"
(2021) (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: Married paranormal investigators try to find and stop a witch before she causes a young man to kill himself.
PLOT:

It's 1981 and Ed (PATRICK WILSON) and Lorraine Warren (VERA FARMIGA) are married paranormal investigators who've recently been helping 8-year-old David Glatzel (JULIAN HILLARD) and his family deal with him being possessed by a demon. Realizing the danger the boy is in, Arne Johnson (RUAIRI O'CONNOR) -- boyfriend to David's older sister, Debbie (SARAH CATHERINE HOOK) -- tells the demon to take him instead. As a result, the boy is freed but Arne ends up under the control of the demon's spell that causes him to murder a man.

Ed and Lorraine then try to help with Arne's legal defense, but need more facts in hopes of his lawyer successfully arguing him being not guilty due to demonic possession. That eventually leads them to a now retired priest, Father Kastner (JOHN NOBLE), who dealt with such matters, and eventually to a witch (EUGENIE BONDURANT) who needs to claim several souls to satisfy the demon. As they work to solve the mystery, the husband and wife put themselves in danger.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I've written before about movies that "jump the shark" when it comes to overstaying their welcome or going to extremes to try to keep audiences entertained (for a refresher, the catchphrase originated back in 1977 on TV's "Happy Days" when Fonzie literally did just that on skis).

This usually happens when we're past installment number five or so in movie series. And upon seeing the title of the eighth film in "The Conjuring" cinematic universe, I figured we were definitely in that territory. After all, who puts Flip Wilson's drag dressing alter-ego, Geraldine, in a horror film?

For those who have no idea who and what I'm talking about, Wilson was a popular standup comedian of the 1960s and 70s who would often dress up as an outspoken woman named Geraldine. And her catchphrase, stemming from a comedy album Wilson did before introducing her to the world on TV, was "The devil made me do it."

With that first appearing as her defense to her husband about buying a dress, I wondered whether the events of "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" somehow involved Geraldine -- or maybe one of her sinister disciples -- buying the dress on the Annabelle doll or dressing up like the demonic nun, both featured in some of the past "The Conjuring" films.

Alas, that's not the case, although the film is set a few years after Wilson's TV show and in the timeline of "The Conjuring" films, is the latest of the bunch, taking place four years after the events of "The Conjuring 2."

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators who turn into detectives of sorts in this offering written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and directed by Michael Chaves. When we first see them, they're just doing their normal sort of work -- helping perform an exorcism on 8-year-old David (Julian Hilliard). After that doesn't seem to work, Arne (Ruairi O'Connor) -- the boyfriend to David's older sister, Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) -- pleads for the demon in the boy to take him and so it does.

Once possessed, he ends up killing his girlfriend's boss and goes on trial, with the Warrens trying to prove that he's not guilty by reason of demonic possession. Having found a witch's totem at the sight of the boy's initial encounter with the supernatural, Ed and Lorraine go into supernatural gumshoe mode and try to find who's behind that and why.

That includes Lorraine using her clairvoyant abilities to transport herself into past scenes as if she's really there, all of which allows for added jump scares and overall spookiness, including in a scene set in a funeral home with covered and then not covered bodies.

Some of it's moderately effective, but I never found myself scared or creeped out. Maybe that's because we've seen this sort of material before -- in this series and others -- and nothing is done here to make it seem unique or at least fresh.

Perhaps Geraldine -- or her spirit -- should have been summoned to add some spooky je ne sais quoi to the proceedings. If not, bring out the shark, the skis, and the Fonz for installment number nine. "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 26, 2021 / Posted June 4, 2021


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