The latest addition to the ‘Conjuring’ cinematic universe takes our intrepid supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren further out into the real world — taking on a case that went on to become the first US murder trial where demonic possession was used as a legal defence.
The seventh film in James Wan’s ‘Conjuring’ Universe, ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ comes after two ‘Conjuring’ films, as well as ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Annabelle: Creation’, ‘The Nun’ and ‘Annabelle Comes Home’.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return to star as the Warrens, with series director Wan stepping away from helming duties (he shares story credit with David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick) to hand over the reins to Michael Chaves (‘The Curse of La Llorona’).
“It was a dream come true,” Chaves says in production notes. “I’m a big fan of the ‘Conjuring’ films. James is the modern master of horror, so to take the reins on this world he created is both exciting and daunting. There’s a huge responsibility not just to James, but to the fans, to the franchise, and to the characters he created. That was not lost on me.”
Ripped straight from the headlines and taking place 10 years after the events of the first ‘Conjuring’ film, the ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ team felt like this was the perfect opportunity for Ed and Lorraine to push their skills to the limit. “For everyone involved,” Chaves says, “This was the darkest story the Warrens were involved in. They put everything on the line for the accused, Arne Johnson.”
'A perfect platform'
‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ also gave the filmmakers the perfect platform from which to send Ed and Lorraine out and into the world at large. Cast and crew say this was a great opportunity for them to engage the police and investigate the sinister reasons that led to a horrific crime.
“In ‘The Conjuring,’ the deliverance from evil was confined to a single space within four walls,” Farmiga describes. “In ‘The Conjuring 2,’ we got Ed and Lorraine an aeroplane ticket, and we sent them abroad. But again, their mission was confined within the walls of a home. Now, for ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,’ they leave the confines of the haunted house and go to the most depraved and scary places.”
What really sets this ‘Conjuring’ apart and makes it so exciting, Chaves says, “is that you have all of the scares and the terror that you would expect from a ‘Conjuring’ film, but it is set against this incredible mystery that is tied into what the ‘Conjuring’ universe is all about.”
Lorraine takes the lead
‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ faced two main challenges in development: how to keep the ‘Conjuring’ Universe original and fresh and how to balance reality with drama.
“We wanted to keep the elements of the previous films that people love,” says screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who also worked on the story with Wan, “but you don’t want to give them the exact same thing all over again.”
One of the ways they wanted to add a fresh angle to the franchise was to set Farmiga’s Lorraine front and centre. Inspired by films like John Carpenter’s ‘Eyes of Laura Mars’ and David Cronenberg’s ‘The Dead Zone’, the team was looking for a case where Lorraine could shine as a psychic detective and Ed could take the back seat for once.
In previous ‘Conjuring’ films, Ed is always the guy who’s fixing the car or fixing the sink; he’s physical and active. So to have him step back, the makers decided to have his physical strength compromised by giving him a heart attack, something that the real Ed Warren also suffered at a point in his life.
“[There is a] scene where she goes under the house instead of him,” says screenwriter Johnson-McGoldrick, “it’s very hard for him to be on the outside, and we get to see Lorraine take action.”
Eight years of chemistry
“It’s amazing growing older with my fake spouse,” Farmiga says. “At the risk of sounding corny, my love for old Patrick Wilson continues to run feverish. I adore him. We are such good friends. We mitigate the dark, emotional work that we do by laughing our heads off together. He makes me all kinds of giggly.”
“We’ve trusted each other since day one,” Wilson adds, “that’s where the chemistry comes from. We’re totally comfortable with each other and we have a lot of fun.”
Reportedly, fans of Ed and Lorraine are in for a special treat as we get a brief glimpse into their distant past. For the first time, we see the pair as teenagers in love. “The heart of this franchise is Ed and Lorraine’s connection and love,” adds Farmiga, “that’s what makes it stand apart from other horror films. It’s the love story.”
Playing Arne Johnson
For Ruairi O’Connor, it was a much darker hole in which he found himself. O’Connor plays Arne Johnson, the man accused of manslaughter, who then pleads innocent claiming to have been demonically possessed.
“Arne Johnson is a complex role,” admits Chaves, “layered with a lot of really powerful emotions like regret, anguish and anger, all mixed with fear.”
In such extraordinary circumstances as Arne finds himself, O’Connor still has to find the perspective of his character in order to make him convincing, and O’Connor’s Arne is deeply tortured.
“You have to find empathy for your character,” O’Connor explains, “and not judge your character. You get to where you can really understand their point of view. So what I’m saying is, I was literally possessed for this. I managed to get myself to that cursed place.”
For most of the shoot, O’Connor self-isolated, donning headphones and listening to 80s music between takes in order to remain in the world that his version of Arne inhabited. But it was only a matter of time before the dark themes took a toll on O’Connor’s psyche. However, he found comfort in Wilson and Farmiga’s seasoned outlook towards it all — finding the lighter moments between takes.
“It was important to break up the demon-possessed and horrendous physical difficulties I was going through,” O’Connor says, “all the screaming and thrashing around. So, I started to look at funny videos in between, because Patrick and Vera are so lighthearted about it.”
Did you know?
Make-believe or not, spooky films have a way of getting under the skin of the cast and crew. To lay any qualms or uncomfortable feelings to rest, it has now become both tradition and lore for the ‘Conjuring’ films and their spin-offs to receive a blessing at the start of production, to which all cast and crew members are invited to attend. “For anyone who has any kind of hesitation,” says director Michael Chaves, “it puts them at ease.”
“It sanctifies the space in which we work so that space is consecrated,” explains Vera Farmiga, who has played Lorraine Warren in the ‘Conjuring’ Universe over the past eight years. “It’s a necessary and beautiful start to production.”
Don’t miss it!
‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it’ releases in UAE cinemas on June 3.