Ed and Lorraine Warren return for another battle against the forces of evil – here’s our review of the new Conjuring movie.

After everything we’ve all been through over the past year and a bit, no-one would blame you if you didn’t fancy watching a horror movie. Real life is frightening enough, isn’t it? No matter what the poster says, though, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It isn’t really a scary movie. It’s more like a giant teddy bear: in the dark, it might cast a shadow that looks threatening, but it’s actually just really cuddly.

So: it’s 1981, and paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are a little older than the last time we saw them, and a lot more physically fragile. But being a bit old and creaky doesn’t excuse a demonologist from doing their God-given duty, so when Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook) gets in touch to ask for their help with her possessed little brother David (Julian Hilliard) they roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.

Trouble is, the exorcism goes slightly awry. As poor little David writhes in agony and babbles in arcane languages, Debbie’s boyfriend Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) bravely invites the demon to possess him. Soon, he’s seeing fiends lurking round every corner… and then a man is dead, and Arne’s standing trial for murder. To save him from a death sentence, the Warrens will need to prove that Arne isn’t guilty – the devil made him do it.

It’s undeniably fun to see Wilson and Farmiga back in their period ghostbuster garb. The two of them have great chemistry, and there’s something wonderfully comforting about their version of the Warrens. They’re just so nice, the kind of lovely couple you wish could have been your parents, or at least your next-door neighbours. Their love for one another is the heart of the first Conjuring movie, and they’re the only authentic thing about the second one, so it seems only right that this time, more than ever, the story is about them.

This is a much more straightforward movie, plot-wise, than the previous one; rather than throwing in half a dozen new monsters, screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick keeps things simple. There’s the story about the Glatzels, sure, but really, it’s a depiction of two people who are truly in love. There are moments throughout the film when Ed is in mortal danger, and moments when Lorraine is – and every time, director Michael Chaves makes sure we really feel their desperation to rescue one another.

It’s sort of an odd dynamic for a horror movie, because it feels like the scares are plucking at your heartstrings rather than trying to yank them out by the root. Rather than feeling the immediacy of the danger – or, you know, the flat-out terror of coming face-to-face with a creature from hell – you just get a little taste of pre-grief, and then everything’s okay again.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any jump scares, because there are. They’re just not very scary. You can tell James Wan didn’t direct this movie: the camerawork isn’t as dynamic, the build-up to the scares is never as intense, and there aren’t even any creepy puppets. Where Wan’s scares force audiences to look right into the face of his monsters for far longer than is comfortable, Chaves flinches away. There’s nothing here that’ll imprint itself on your brain as indelibly as the wardrobe scare in the original Conjuring, or even the demonic hands creeping out from behind the canvas in The Conjuring 2.

Instead, it feels like an affectionate check-in with some old demon-hunting friends. Are they still doing all that scary stuff? Oh yes, they are. But did they drink their water today? Did they get enough sleep? Are they okay? Yes, the movie seems to be saying. They’ll be fine. And so will you. Yes, there are monsters out there, and yes, sometimes they get very close indeed, but everything’s going to be alright in the end. If the purpose of a horror movie is to let its audience work through their fears in a safe space, then – job done.

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