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Two Conjuring films and several spinoffs established a substantial following and a few key expectations. Expect horror’s favorite cinematic couple to encounter terror in notorious haunted house cases, at least one memorable supernatural entity with spinoff appeal, and an endless barrage of effective chills that keep viewers as invested as the central romance. The newest Conjuring movie subverts many expectations for its third outing to ensure this franchise stays fresh and unpredictable. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It marks a new, exhilarating direction for the series, dialing up the intensity to deliver the darkest entry yet.

Opening with a climactic scene that establishes crucial plot points that will run throughout, The Devil Made Me Do It tackles the case of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), who murdered his landlord in 1981. His defense? Arne was possessed. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) were heavily involved with a case involving the family of Johnson’s fiancée, Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook). A significant health crisis took their attention away from the Glatzels until tragedy struck. Now, with Arne facing death row, the Warrens must team up with the local authorities to get to the bottom of it all before it’s too late.

At this point of the series, it’s clear that this is no longer James Wan‘s franchise but Wilson and Farmiga’s. Their fictionalized versions of the Warrens bring emotional resonance to these films, and it’s this iteration of Ed and Lorraine that connects so much with audiences. They know their characters well, too. Wan, who has story credit here, knows it. He and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick put even greater emphasis on their romance, raising the stakes even higher for them in the process. Lorraine does the heaviest lifting of all as her powers get tested to their limits, and her adversary presents a diabolical dichotomy. This sequel brings the scary-good fun, but it’s also a poignant love story.

Director Michael Chaves shows a keen understanding of the Conjuring films, at once paying homage to both the series and classic horror while fearlessly taking bold swings. The filmmaker’s preference in keeping as much on camera as possible lends to several thrilling and innovative scare moments. The nature of this particular case opens up the world beyond the confines of a haunted house, creating many memorable set pieces as well.

This movie might showcase Wilson and Farmiga, but the supporting cast further enriches the sequel with fantastic performances. O’Connor brings surprising physicality to his tormented character, and Julian Hilliard once again charms as a mature soul trapped within an innocent. Look for John Noble to stand out as a haunted character that makes exposition delivery so heartbreaking and compelling.

The Devil Made Me Do It draws basis from a true-crime case with actual victims. The previous entries featured zero human victims, which already establishes the darker, more mature tone here. Johnson-McGoldrick, Wan, and Chaves take it a step further by dabbling with an even darker threat that removes any sense of safety for the protagonists and supporting players. The Warrens’ unwavering devotion to each other offsets the body count and grim subject matter. The result is a thrilling new entry full of surprises and hair-raising intensity that zips along and leaves you clamoring for more. Chaves seamlessly takes the reins from Wan and runs with it, bringing a wholly different experience that still feels like a warm reunion with horror’s favorite couple.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It releases in theaters and on HBO MAX on June 4, 2021.

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