Conjuring sequel is a good, entertaining thriller, twistier than its predecessors

A murder suspect claims demonic possession as a defence in court in the third entry in the horror franchise centred around paranormal investigators  Lorraine and Ed Warren. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are great, and downright adorable as The Warrens, writes Tony Stamp – when they’re in peril, we care too.

In November 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson stabbed his landlord Alan Bono to death. What The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It presupposes is… maybe he was possessed?

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Look I’m all for fiction riffing on factual occurrences, but it’s really hard to turn a blind eye to the way this movie clears Johnson—a real, convicted murderer—of any guilt and goes so far as to make him a kind of hero. And ok, while we’re at it: I think the real-life Warrens are fucking frauds who made a career preying on vulnerable people.

But this is Hollywood and there’s money to be made, and so the pair have generated their own goddamn cinematic universe, encompassing three whole films about a haunted doll, one about a scary nun, one about… a Mexican ghost, I think? And counting this latest instalment, three Conjurings. The Insidious movies don’t count, but it’s easy to get confused, they’re pretty similar.

But here’s where I’m torn. I like James Wan, who spearheaded the franchise. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are great, and downright adorable as The Warrens. And setting aside any icky morality, I like the Conjuring movies—including this one.

Director Michael Chaves previously helmed the in-universe Curse of La Llorona, and while he doesn’t have Wan’s firm control of his craft, he spins an engrossing yarn, only succumbing to hacky shit during the film’s possession scenes. He’s helped by a pretty good (fictional) story, which strays from the formula slightly by including a satanic cult. Basically, there’s a bit more going on here than some mischievous ghouls.

… not much more. But I’m a sucker for a mystery, and I’m a sucker for crosscutting between people learning important information and the people that information will affect, and this film delivers. There are sceptical cops, crime scene investigations, a mortuary and a lot of rain: all good stuff that tickles me far more than CGI-contorted bodies and the sound of cracking bones (possession shorthand that shows up here too, as well as those black veins. You know the ones).

But most importantly this film has John flipping Noble, star of Fringe and Return of the King, and as soon as his exquisitely lined face shows up, your movie gets much, much better. He’s not here for long, but good lord it’s such a pleasure to watch the man act.

In its early stretches, The Devil Made Me Do It trafficks in the ‘quiet… quiet… LOUD!’ stuff that Wan turned into a fine art, but not for that long. It’s admirable that Chaves heads in a twistier direction. Visually he throws in clunky nods to The Exorcist and The Shining, but also comes up with some striking original images, sneaking crosses into the edge of frames here and there.

The biggest drawcard here, though, might be the delightful romance between the Warrens, realised completely earnestly by Farmiga and Wilson. It’s just so wholesome to see this older couple care for each other, and when they’re in peril, we care too.

So yep, this is a good, entertaining thriller. But there’s no such thing as ghosts. There is such a thing as Occam’s Razor, particularly where landlords are involved. The Devil Made Me Do It feels a bit like the latest episode of a TV show about some particularly charming ghost hunters. But it’s an instalment worth tuning into.