Conjuring : In the heat of a demonic fit

A man has been possessed. In the heat of a demonic fit, he stabs another man 20 times. Then — nothing. He’s arrested, fit to be charged. And yet, for a guy supposedly possessed, he seems awfully normal. The demon has left him behind entirely. They can do that, didn’t you know? You didn’t? Ed and Lorraine Warren are back, and they’re here to school you.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the latest in this ongoing horror franchise, differs from its predecessors, though at first it appears to be more of the same. An 8-year-old boy, David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), is possessed; the usual hilarity ensues — until. His older sister’s boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) offers himself up in David’s place. The demon … takes him up on it?

This new Conjuring offering — produced, in line with the rest of the series, by James Wan — is, like the other films, based on a real case handled by the Warrens, in which the man’s attorney indeed claimed that accused was possessed by the devil. The movie was directed by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) who, in the case of The Devil Made Me Do It, reveals a finer hand with the melodrama of possession — the utter internal chaos of it, the feverish disorientation — than with jump scares.

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Occasionally, the actors prove more chilling, even in plainly expository scenes, than the actual rigmarole of horror movie tricks. I’m thinking in particular of John Noble, who plays a retired man of the cloth and weathered former exorcist, and to the way he responds to the question of: “Why?” It’s the way he says, “The why is irrelevant,” with that final T overly enunciated, drawn out like a hand reaching forward to slap the person asking.

For all the fire and brimstone we face throughout the rest of the movie, little of it approaches the weirdo depths of this actor’s voice. When Noble leads our central pair down into a basement for a tour of his occult archive, it more or less immediately seems like a bad, bad idea. Even Isla (Eugenie Bondurant), the Occultist in Chief, can’t compare to spooky basement.