I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
With the release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, I wanted to take a look back at the previous seven movies of the shared Conjuring Universe (aka The ConjurVerse), lest the devil make you watch a movie without being primed with its predecessors.
Then again, it’s understandable why one wouldn’t care to see most of the ConjurVerse since more than half of it is PG-13 teenage slumber party garbage and more than one of them feels forced into a shared universe for no other reason than there’s a chance it might make more money.
But if you feel there’s something you might have skipped, this is the ConjurVerse from best to worst.
1) The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan’s The Conjuring introduced Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as real-life spirit busters Lorraine and Ed Warren, respectively. Lorraine and Ed visit a local farmhouse and help a family haunted by a demonic presence. The first act of the movie is domestic unrest as we see a seemingly normal household (led by the wonderfully brittle Lili Taylor) terrorized by unseen forces. Wan teases the scares slowly in what would become his signature style of stretching the tension out for as long as possible before hitting you with a stinger. Nobody looks like they’re acting in a horror movie (Farmiga and Wilson have wonderful onscreen chemistry), which makes the scares all the more effective when they do come. The Conjuring conjures out of your memory as soon as the credits roll, but you’re grateful you watched, arm-grab scares and all.
2) The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The aptly named Conjuring 2 pretty much follows the same template as the first Conjuring movie. Except now the Warrens (Farmiga and Wilson, easing back into their roles) go to England and instead of a couple with five daughters being haunted by an evil presence, it’s a single mother (Frances O’ Connor) with four children being haunted by an evil presence. Totally different. The sequel has some pretty effective scares, but they’re less effective since you know where everything is coming from. Director James Wan returns and plays the same uneasy but graceful notes. You know what to expect. You get what you expect. The scene with the recorder still gets under your skin.
3) Annabelle Creation (2017)
Your favorite creepy doll gets her own origin story in a movie that’s way better than any of us had the right to expect, considering how dull the first Annabelle was. An Australian couple grieving over their dead child focus their energies on a doll while a nun and six orphan girls move in. What could go wrong? There’s not much you can’t predict in Creation, but director David F. Sandberg keeps things moving so you don’t dwell when things get cliché. The jump scares are adequate enough that you’re never bored. You’re just surprised that you like it as much as you do. The final ConjurVerse movie classified as “good” to “okay”.
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4) The Conjuring The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
Unfortunately, the third entry into the Conjuring series fits nicely with the rest of the ConjurVerse as, at best, it’s barely above mediocre with a smattering of obvious forced scares. The movie is held together by the chemistry between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. The opening exorcism is (relatively) entertaining if filled with cliches and unconvincing histrionics. Unfortunately, The Devil Made Me Do It could be used for a catchphrase for a lot of what goes wrong in this movie.
5) Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
The Warrens return for the third movie in the Annabelle series. But they’re conveniently gone before you know it in this unintentionally funny installment of the doll that can scare you by just being still. Why unintentionally funny? Because so much of what takes place during Home would not have happened had most of the characters not been willfully stupid just to drive the plot along. You watch it realizing the movie would have been over in thirty minutes if one of these characters was smarter than a children’s toy. Annabelle 3 got an ‘R’ rating for whatever reason, as the scares are pretty basic and aren’t gory enough to warrant repulsion. What does warrant repulsion is how pedestrian this movie is. Stay home, before you see Home.
6) The Nun (2018)
First introduced in The Conjuring 2, The Nun gets her own movie and it’s not long before you realize she’s scarier in small doses. Every player in the movie is acting for effect. They’re trying really hard to act afraid but the problem is no one in the audience is actually scared of what they’re seeing onscreen. All the attempted frights feel forced, as if the filmmakers knew they had a dud on their hands and tried to shoehorn as many cheap jump and Foley scares as possible to justify its existence as a “horror” movie. You’re looking for genuine frights, but you’ll get nun, I mean none.
7) Annabelle (2014)
After the chilling introduction Annabelle got during the first five minutes of The Conjuring, you hoped the movie lived up to the tease. If you actually stayed awake and finished watching Annabelle you realized this was false advertising. You’re dismayed that the Conjuring intro was scarier than anything you see in this grade-A (for Annabelle) snooze fest. Most if not all of the attempted scares feel forced and land with a thud because you can see them all coming from twenty minutes of screentime away. If you’re accidentally scared of anything in this movie, please write when it was so we can fast forward to it so we don’t actually have to sit through this flatline. The late great Alfre Woodard plays the Magical Negro trope taking minority onscreen progression a step back or three.
8) The Curse of La Llorona (2019)
Don’t feel cursed if you’re not sure how this fits into the ConjurVerse as it’s only attached by the thinnest of strings. Almost generically tacked on, as if being a part of a shared universe makes this movie less lifeless than it is. Taking on the curse of the “weeping woman”, you’re the only one weeping at how bad this movie is. Most of the film’s halfway decent scares are revealed in the trailer and they weren’t particularly good to begin with. You spend most of the movie hoping and waiting the movie will get better. Everyone who’s seen this will tell you that it doesn’t. I feel doubly bad for the weeping woman because of what happened to her and for a terrible movie made about what happened to her.
If you’re itching to see The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, then you’d be better off revisiting the Conjuring movies again. If you’ve got some time and some brain cells to kill, the remaining entries of the ConjurVerse technically qualify as movies. That’s as high praise as they deserve.
© 2021 Noel Penaflor