It's called "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" but a more accurate subtitle would be "Cupid Made Me Do It."
The actual title might make you think the somber horror series has suddenly gained an ironic sense of humor. It hasn't, but the third in the "Conjuring" series about "paranormal investigators" Lorraine and Ed Warren tantalizes us with hints of the romantic bond that fueled the work of the husband-and-wife team, played again by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.
"Devil," in which havoc ensues after the wayward exorcism of a possessed child, comes complete with a shot of a fedora-wearing priest, silhouetted from behind as he looks up a staircase to the kid's house, a fairly obvious homage to "The Exorcist." We also get the standard exorcism menu of foaming lips, flailing limbs, holy water and festering boils, all of which feels like a reminder that you should watch "Exorcist" instead of "Conjuring," if you need a good scare.
The devil turns out to be working through a never-fully-developed mystery woman, but what's compelling about "Devil" is how the Warrens remain united in faith and love. Their work takes a toll on them, both physically (he has a heart attack) and emotionally (an empath, she empathizes too much for her own good). But Farmiga and Wilson create such a strong sense of teamwork and affection that we understand why the Warrens pick up the phone every time someone calls and says there's a hellmouth in their crawl space. The Warrens answer because they think they can help and they know they can count on each other.
The realness of the relationship conveyed by Farmiga and Wilson helps us believe in some goofy stuff. For instance, it turns out that not only is "Devil Made Me Do It" not a joke but also it's a courtroom plea. Insisting that "the court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth," the Warrens push for what amounts to a not-guilty-by-reason-of-Satan plea when someone gets killed in that wayward exorcism. Something along those lines happened in real life in the early 1980s and, even if you're skeptical of the legal grounds, it's an intriguing idea.
I wish "Devil Made Me Do It" spent more time on courtroom maneuvering, instead of formulaic shock scares when people venture into demonic houses without flipping on the light switch. It could make for an intriguing movie about a legal curiosity, along the lines of "The Advocate," in which a medieval Colin Firth defended a pig that was on trial for murder.
That murderous pig movie, like "Devil," was inspired by actual events. It's hard to know how much of any of the "Conjuring" movies is true but there's an increasing sense in them that what would be most compelling is a sequel where the devil stays busy elsewhere so there's time to focus on the Warrens, both of whom are now deceased. Why, for instance, did they pursue work that apparently cost them so much and what did their daughter, who pops up briefly in "Devil," make of it all?
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: R for violence.
Theater: Wide release and on HBO Max.