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'The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It': Franchise entry with a twist

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play the paranormal

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play the paranormal investigators in "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Ben Rothstein

THE PLOT A young man pleads not guilty of murder by reason of demonic possession.

THE CAST Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor

RATED R (bloody and macabre imagery)

LENGTH 1:52

WHERE Theaters and HBO Max\

BOTTOM LINE Film No. 7 in the horror franchise takes a welcome turn toward the mystery genre.

The byword of the horror-film franchise "The Conjuring" is reliability.

Some horror movies like Jordan Peele’s "Get Out" have been exploring social issues, while others, such as Ari Aster's "Hereditary" have aspired to the avant-garde.Not the "Conjuring" movies, which have stuck with the tried and true: haunted houses, exorcisms, Satanic rituals, creepy dolls. The seventh film in the series, "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It," adds a little twist just to keep things fresh, telling a supernatural tale with the methodical approach of a police procedural.

That makes sense given that our heroes are real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, of "The Amityville Horror" fame. They’re played once again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, this time in full-on buddy-cop mode: He’s the hard-headed grouch, she’s the emotionally sensitive medium. The film opens with the Warrens assisting the exorcism of poor little David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), who is saved when a good-hearted young man, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), steps in to offer the demon his body as a vessel instead. Later, after the whole affair has been mostly forgotten, Arne commits a brutal murder and enters an unusual defense plea: Not guilty by reason of demonic possession.

This is a true story, by the way, that made headlines in 1981. (In this telling, the murder takes place to the strains of Blondie’s new wave hit "Call Me.") The legal system may not buy Arne’s argument, but the Warrens do, and they set out to prove that someone — or something — has set this chain of events in motion. Along the way they’ll meet a creepy priest (John Noble) and Lorraine will become psychically intertwined with a mysterious Satanist (Eugenia Bondurant). The little clues — a disturbing bundle of bones and feathers hidden in a house, for instance —are often more unsettling than the film's big set pieces, which include a range of reanimated corpses and demonic apparitions that come barrelling toward one Warren or another.

The "Conjuring" films often feel a little like episodic television, with each plot wrapping up neatly before the Warrens’ next adventure. They’re almost comfort-horror —"Satan, She Wrote," perhaps — which may explain why the movies do so well at the box office. Horror movies may be built on surprises, but with this franchise, you always know what you’re getting.

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