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Movie Review: ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’

NEW YORK (CNS) — Do-it-yourself demon fighters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren are at it again in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Warner Bros.).

The apparent draw this time being that, instead of combating possession, they’re trying to undo a curse.

While many horror films claim a factual basis, director Michael Chaves’ addition to the Warren chronicles is undeniably rooted in reality. The case with which it deals, the 1981 murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), grabbed headlines after the accused claimed to have acted while under demonic control — the first such defense, it seems, ever officially entered in a U.S. court.

Misguided altruism may have been Arne’s undoing.

As early scenes show, he was witness to the sufferings of his live-in girlfriend Debbie Glatzel’s (Sarah Catherine Hook) little brother David (Julian Hilliard). The latter’s captivity to diabolical forces is depicted as sufficiently well established for the church to have dispatched an exorcist, Father Gordon (Steve Coulter), to take over from the Warrens.

Overwhelmed by David’s affliction, Arne ill-advisedly invites the malignant spirit assailing the boy to take hold of his own soul instead. Not long afterward, Arne brutally slays his landlord, Bruno Saul (Ronnie Gene Blevins), by repeatedly stabbing him. (The actual victim’s name was Alan Bono.)

Anxious to help Arne, the Warrens are initially stymied by the fact that, when they interview him in jail, he can do things, e.g., read the Bible, he would not be able to if he were still possessed. Clues point them to an alternate theory — namely, that his temporary subjugation to Lucifer was the result of an ongoing hex put on both David and Arne by a Satanist.

As they hunt for this malefactor, the Warrens are aided by an eccentric retired priest, Father Kastner (John Noble). His expertise on devil worship, however, comes bound up with a distinctly fishy personality.

As scripted by screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, this extension of the franchise takes us to rat-infested basements and shows us contorting victims of the underworld. It succeeds in breaking little new ground, though.

Along the way, there’s predictable (though relatively restrained) mayhem but also an uneasy blending of nonscriptural mysticism — Lorraine is portrayed as clairvoyant — with explicitly Catholic piety and prayer. Throw in plot developments involving a wayward clergyman and it’s clear this is unfit viewing for youngsters.

The real-life judge before whom Arne was tried dismissed his plea of supernatural extenuating circumstances. Discerning movie fans may be inclined to do the same with this fictionalized version of his ordeal.

The film contains some gory violence, mature themes including occult activity, brief sensuality in the context of cohabitation, a couple of profanities, a few milder oaths and at least one crude term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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