Updated: Aug 29, 2021
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) carries young David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) from his bedroom to the dining room to conduct the exorcism.
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“THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2021: R for terror, violence and some disturbing images; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K), returns to HBO Max (4K) November 20
Best extra: “DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover #1”; a comic book featuring the backstory of some of the film's characters, voiced over and replete with ads for decoder rings and "ghost glasses.”
ROCKETING OUT OF the gate with an exorcism scene intentionally reminiscent of William Peter Blatty’s most successful work, the latest saga in The Conjuring Universe will likely satisfy fans of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s battles with things demonic. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back as the Warrens, this time unraveling a curse that's driven a young man to murder and is propelling him to commit suicide.
The story begins with the exorcism of a young boy, David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard – one of the youngsters from Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House”) – attended by the Warrens, a Catholic priest, the boy’s sister (a winsome but steadfast Sarah Catherine Hook), his parents (Wilson’s brother Paul as Carl Glatzel), the sister’s boyfriend, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) and a pretty flexible young lady I'll talk about later.
(1) The Warrens read scripture before Father Gordon arrives. (2) Arne comforts David at his bedside. (3) Framed like a shot from the original “The Exorcist” (1973), Father Gordon (Steve Coulter) arrives at the Glatzel home. (4&5) As the demon takes control of David’s body, convulsions twist his limbs into inhuman shapes. (6) Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) tells the demon to “take him” instead. (7) Ed suffers a heart attack while David’s family embraces him after the demonic host leaves him.
In the course of events, Ed suffers a near fatal heart attack and little David claws away from all restraints to end up with Arne – who commands the entity infesting the boy to "take him" instead. No one notices this transaction, concerned as they are with Ed’s situation. But the little boy seems free of his demonic host; score another one for the Warrens and your friendly neighborhood exorcist.
A short time later, Ed mostly recovers and life seems to have become kind of interesting for poor Arne – not in a good way. In a frenetic and disorienting scene, Arne kills his girlfriend’s landlord/boss, then wanders out, dripping gore, to be apprehended by the local police.
In fairly short order, Ed and Lorraine discover Arne’s bargain with the entity possessing young David and convince his lawyer to base his defense on demonic possession. As they investigate, the Warrens discover that what afflicted David and Arne was a curse called by a satanic cult (exposition courtesy of a creepy John Noble in yet another easter-egg from “The Exorcist"). We find that the curse is the probable motive behind another murder/suicide some miles away.
Soon, we are introduced to the prime mover behind all this, The Occultist, played by the tall and striking New Orleans chanteuse Eugenie Bondurant, a sort of anti-Lorraine whose fascination with Satanism has turned her into a sort of human black hole.
After the raucous horror of the opening scenes, the film settles down and plays out like a mystery, until the demon and its would-be master get rolling again. I said I’d mention more later about a certain flexible young woman; that would be 14 year old Emerald Gordon-Wulf. While watching young David’s twists and turns under demonic possession, the viewer would be correct in assuming CGI was involved somehow in the process – a human body just can't do that sort of thing – can it?
(1&2) The next day, everything seems normal as David’s mother Judy (Charlene Amoia) and sister Debbie (Sarah Catherine Hook) watch Arne play with David. (3&4) Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Judy (Sterling Jerins) keep a watchful eye on Ed as he recovers from his near-fatal heart attack.
Ms. Gordon-Wulf was a young contestant on “America’s Got Talent” as a contortionist par extraordinaire. The things she can do with her body defy description. Her spot on AGT is available on YouTube and definitely worth a peek. CGI was used to put Julian Hilliard’s face on her cute mug. The rest was just Emerald being Emerald. According to one of the extras, she likes being scary.
As the credits roll, a recording of the actual exorcism plays, a tradition of The Conjuring films. This time, it adds an especially unsettling tone.
“The Occultist” gives us Director Michael Chaves (“The Curse of La Llorona”), producer/screenwriter James Wan, and producer James Safran discussing the central baddie and how she fits into The Conjuring Universe, along with Wilson and Farmiga. “The Exorcism of Fear” has Chaves and all explaining the particulars of the opening scenes. “By Reason of Demonic Possession" features the real Arne Johnson and his wife, Debbie, who go over the actual murder case. "DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover #1” highlights a murder-suicide that took place before the main events in “The Devil Made Me Do It,” and it’s quite nicely done. The ads are a hoot and a half.
It’s the viewer’s choice; both the 4K UHD and 1080p discs offer a robust Dolby Atmos track and Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Sadly, the Dolby Atmos is woefully out of balance. The opening exorcism scene and the murder scenes weaponizes the sound to unbearable levels. It’s meant to unsettle viewers, but has them reaching for the remote instead. Even so, there’s never any problem with clarity. The default TrueHD civilizes the sound – and is kinder to neighbors – without losing the impact of a dynamic bass. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the mix of effects (lots of them) and score by Joseph Bishara are well blended and balanced.
The Atmos track should play better on a system with a full set up and speakers all around the room.
(1) Debbie looks into his eyes, but Arne isn’t quite himself. (2) Moments later, he’s found walking along the highway covered in blood. (3) Police investigate the murder scene, finding the murder weapon. The victim was stabbed 22 times. (4) Ed and Lorraine learn of Arne’s bargain with the entity, and convince his lawyer to base his defense on demonic possession. (5&6) Arne’s plenary court hearing as Debbie, Lorraine, and Ed listen to his plea.
It’s sharp and clear all the way, with the 4K UHD showing a good edge over the 1080p. Of course murky, shadowy stuff is intentional, "We don't want you to see this TOO clearly – all the better to jump-scare your butts."
Captured on ARRIRAW 2.8K cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) and mastered in 2K, you’ll see better, sharper definition and detail on the 4K presentation. This is great when it comes to black-on-black scenes. Visual effects – like glassy, mystic eyes – are more subtle. If they can be called “natural,” the attacking corpse, dead bodies, caves of gruesome artifacts, et.al. look authentic. This is really happening! Contortion scenes are stunning. Lorraine appears to be really falling from that cliff, and Ed’s pallor in the moments of health issues looks genuine.
Color is good throughout from shadowed dens and forests to the warm 1980s palette. Complexions seem a bit washed out, although blacks are exceptionally solid on the 4K, boosting definition and contrast with its HDR10 (disc) and Dolby Vision (digital) grading.
Obviously, some years have passed since the first “Conjuring” film debuted in 2013, and the Warrens have aged. Fans may note the skillful makeup used on Wilson and Farmiga that provides the sense of passing years, even while that crazy floral wallpaper in the Warrens’ home and Ed’s office clutter harken to earlier films.
As I said, if you are a fan of Ed and Lorraine Warren and The Conjuring Universe, you'll find a lot here to like. As for myself, I’d watch Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga read the phone book, so I’m good.
— Mike Reynolds
(1&2) The Warrens discover a satanic curse placed under the Glatzel home - a Satinist’s totem placed there by a member of the Disciples of the Ram cult. (3) Ed and Lorraine meet with Kastner (John Noble), a former priest who previously dealt with the cult. (4) They travel to Danvers, Mass. to investigate the death of Katie Lincoln, who was also stabbed 22 times by her friend Jessica. Lorraine has a vision of the murder and nearly falls off a cliff where Jessica jumped during her possession.
(1) The Warrens continue their investigation. (2&3) Lorraine touches the hand of Jessica and receives a vision of The Occultist (Eugenie Bondurant). (4) Arne recovers from a suicide attempt in jail. (5) The altar of The Occultist must be destroyed in order to break the curse.