When it comes to paranormal investigations, Ed and Lorraine Warren have seen it all.
They’ve exorcised angry spirits; sent condemned demons back to hell; confronted a murderous, possessed doll; and even opposed a demonic nun.
But in 1981, they encountered something they’d never seen before …
While participating in the exorcism of David Glatzel, an 8-year-old boy, Arne Johnson (the boyfriend of David’s older sister, Debbie) asked the spirit possessing the boy to take him instead.
Ed saw it all go down. Unfortunately, he suffered a massive heart attack—courtesy of the demon—before he could tell anyone. And shortly after, Arne murdered his housemate, Bruno, in a violent attack.
Ed and Lorraine have proven demon possession before—to the Catholic Church, that is. But they’ve never proven it after the spirit has already left the host. And they’ve certainly never proven it in a court of law.
But if they want any chance of saving Arne from the death penalty, they’ll have to find evidence proving not only that the devil exists, but that he also made Arne do it.
Despite the fact that delving into the world of the paranormal often makes them targets of the spirits they are trying to rid the world of, the Warrens take on every case with aplomb. To them, saving the lives of innocents is worth the risk of dying (or being cursed). And Arne demonstrates this same self-sacrificial spirit when he asks the demon to take his soul instead of David’s.
The power of love is also emphasized here. When the Warrens are targeted by an occultist witch, she sees their love as a weakness and tries to use it against them. However, Lorraine tells Ed that their love is their strength. And similar to other movies in The Conjuring franchise, she uses memories built upon love to help Ed remember who he is and to overcome a curse.
Arne tells David that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared, it just means you’re hanging in there despite being scared.
A Satan-worshipping witch places curses on several people, allowing a demon to possess them. The spirit takes over their bodies, turning their eyes white. It uses telekinesis to move objects, making them see visions of demonic creatures. Ultimately, it goads them to murder others. (David also has a vision of blood pouring from a shower he is hiding in.)
We learn that the witch was raised by a Catholic priest who was responsible for exposing the crimes of a Satanic cult. This cult, we’re told, cursed the lead prosecutor in their case, causing his child to be stillborn and his wife to die prematurely. But rather than burning the occult objects that the priest collected during his studies, the priest kept them locked up—which eventually led to his daughter’s discovery of and fascination with the subject.
The witch creates an altar with black candles and a pentagram, reanimates dead corpses and drinks blood from a chalice. The Warrens learn they must find and destroy the altar to break her curse. They also learn that if she fails to complete the curse, the demon she summoned will claim her soul instead.
Lorraine uses her supernatural gifts to identify murder weapons, discover dead bodies and track down the witch responsible for Arne’s possession. (She sometimes dangles a charm back and forth on her wrist to help her locate things.) She also sees visions of the witch when she touches the witch’s victims. Though during one vision, she realizes the connection goes both ways, allowing the witch to then find and target the Warrens.
Several people wear cross necklaces and carry rosaries. We see crosses on the walls of homes. (We also see an upside-down cross at the witch’s lair.) Priests perform exorcisms. People pray (sometimes in Latin) to ward off evil spirits. Arne uses holy water to create a circle of protection around himself while he prays. People quote Scripture and read from the Bible. A cross marks a young woman’s grave. There are a few honest utterances of “thank God.”
The Warrens keep souvenirs (often possessed or occult objects) of their paranormal investigations locked in their basement. Lorraine says she met Elvis before and after his death. The film’s end credits show pictures of the real Warren and Glatzel families, playing audio recordings of David’s exorcism.
Arne and Debbie live together, and we see them making out on their bed one morning (during which he gropes her). They kiss in other scenes, as well. Ed and Lorraine kiss. We learn that a Catholic priest had a child out of wedlock. There is a scene that suggests two women are interested in each other romantically.
While possessed, the witch’s victims (including an 8-year-old boy) contort their bodies, seemingly breaking bones, foaming at the mouth and screaming with an inhuman voice. Their skin burns and boils when holy water is thrown on it.
People are violently thrown by the demon’s telekinetic abilities, and some are hit in the head with flying objects. Several people are violently stabbed (and sometimes killed) by possessed victims. A cursed Ed swings a sledgehammer at Lorraine, believing her to be a demon.
The Glatzel house is wrecked by the demon-possessed David, and we see him create claw marks on the walls. David is nearly drowned in a waterbed by the demon. We hear that a cult performed blood sacrifices.
Reanimated corpses attempt to kill the Warrens, tackling Ed and pulling Lorraine off a cliff.
While possessed, Arne breaks a bottle and slits his wrists with the broken glass. (He survives.) The demon later shatters several windows supernaturally and tries to get Arne to cut his throat with one of the shards. During a vision, Lorraine relives the night a possessed girl jumped off a cliff. Unable to pull herself out of the vision, Lorraine nearly jumps herself. We hear that a woman committed suicide on a railroad track.
The witch’s father pulls out a gun to defend himself, but she sneaks up behind him and slices his throat. She later tries to stab Lorraine, but Lorraine fends her off by hitting the witch in the head with a rock. Members of a construction crew are almost injured by a falling buzzsaw. Police find Arne with blood on his hands and shirt after he kills Bruno.
We hear one use each of the s-word and “h—.” We also hear two misuses of Jesus’ name and six misuses of God’s name. Someone also suggested that God has “damned” a woman, speaking of her spiritual condemnation.
The day that Bruno is murdered, he and Arne both get drunk. Someone smokes a cigarette. Ed often forgets to take his heart medication, causing him to collapse.
Someone makes a bet. Ed breaks into a funeral home. A man says he has chicken excrement on his hands.
“The court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth. I think it’s about time they accept the existence of the devil,” Ed says to Arne’s lawyer.
The real-life case of Arne Johnson (popularly known as “The Devil Made Me Do It case”) was unique for several reasons—the most prominent being that it was the first time in the United States that someone pled “not guilty” by reason of demonic possession.
The Warrens had their work cut out for them. They had proven demonic possession to the Catholic Church on many occasions—and they had a whole room in their basement dedicated to memorabilia from those incidents. But they had never had to present that evidence in court before—let alone to a bunch of skeptics who believed they were only dealing with people (“crazy, evil people” but people all the same).
In a way, watching a story about real-life people who believe in God defeating demons and Satanists is inspiring. But these films always seem to fall short of the mark on one very important element: God.
Yes, Ed and Lorraine pray and read Scripture and use crucifixes and rosaries and holy water to accomplish spiritual deliverance. But they really don’t bear witness to God or His incredible power over evil. Instead, the prayers they utter feel more ritualistic than honest. Their faith is secondary to the physical, almost mechanical, actions they take to destroy the occult. And it almost feels as if the power of the Satanists and demons supersedes the power of Christ at times.
Apart from those important theological considerations, this sequel confronts viewers with many gory depictions of murders and exorcisms, as well as a smattering of profanities.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It definitely delivers for thrill-seeking horror fans. Demonic possession and witchcraft make the film suspenseful and mysterious. But those problematic spiritual subjects also render it unwatchable for most audiences.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.