Father Gordon arrives as Arne is leaving David’s bedroom, in a shot that pays homage to both The Exorcist and Psycho. It’s an unabashed wink to horror fans, but one that Chaves decided was in the spirit of the Conjuring movies. “Without a doubt, a shameless Exorcist reference there, also putting the figure in the window was another shameless nod to Psycho, seeing Mother in the window. When we screened it, I was on the verge of cutting it out. I was like, ‘it’s too on the nose, you’re just shamelessly stealing from the greatest movie of all time.’ But I kept it and I was glad I did because when we started screening it, people loved it, they loved being able to see those references and make those connections. The Conjuring movies are always these love letters to horror movies. You look at the first one, you can see so much of The Changeling in it, other horror movies as well. I think it does that with great love.”
The Psycho thread continues as David awakens to thrashing noises at his bedroom door. He flees into the bathroom, hides in the tub, and looks up to see an inhuman hand gripping the curtain rail. Oh, David, you’re never safe in the bathroom. Blood explodes out of the showerhead, sending David into hysterics. Julian Hilliard’s grounded performance as David is a huge boon to the horror of the movie’s first eleven minutes, which should come as no surprise given the young actor’s great turns in The Haunting of Hill House, Color Out of Space, and WandaVision just to name a few. “Julian is amazing. He’s a superstar,” Chaves said. “He came incredibly prepared and he’s a really smart young kid. He really knows the script just as well as any of the adult actors, and also understands it. It’s not just knowing your lines, knowing when you’re gonna make a demonic scream or something, it’s really understanding the material. Someone asked ‘what is it like directing kids?’ It’s very easy if you get the right one, I think that was the biggest thing with Julian. I really lucked out with that little guy.”
The adults downstairs hear the commotion in the bathroom and rush to David’s aid, but when they get there, it appears that David’s gone… until his shadow comes into view and he rushes his dad with a knife. Ed manages to pull David away and Father Gordon suggests driving him to the church to perform the exorcism. But the massive slash marks David leaves on the wall as Ed carries him downstairs make it clear: the exorcism needs to happen here and now. Ed gets David onto the dining room table and Lorraine begins to pray over him. The demonic activity sends plates flying and debris swirling into the air, knocking Drew the camera guy’s (another Conjuring cameo) camera over in front of the TV, creating an endless funhouse hallway on the screen. This image seems like it will recur later in the movie, based on the trailer.
As Lorraine prays, she’s blasted by psychic flashes of occult ritual and imagery. These images hint at the role of one of the film’s antagonists, The Occultist (Eugenie Bondurant), who was revealed in the trailer (the same trailer in which Lorraine suggests the Glatzel family may have been cursed). Chaves was reluctant to go into much detail on what role, if any, The Occultist has in David’s possession, but did say the film positions her as a shadow version of Lorraine.
“The idea is that Lorraine is the ultimate receiver. There’s that moment [in the opening scene] of the camera falling over and looking into the TV. Growing up with a camcorder, that was something I would endlessly entertain myself with, pointing a direct feed into the TV, that endless loop of a signal into a receiver. The idea of a really powerful receiver and a really powerful broadcaster was one of the ideas in [The Devil Made Me Do It]: what happens when Lorraine meets her match? What happens when she meets someone who is just as powerful and talented as her? An ‘anti-Lorraine.’ So she has to face that. We play with a lot of mirrors in the movie. Lorraine has the ‘anti-Lorraine’, that dark devil there. Arne and Debbie Glatzel, their relationship kind of mirrors the Warrens’ relationship, and we can see the Warrens at a certain stage in their life, and then this young couple kind of at the beginning of their relationship. There’s also another situation/character in the story which kind of mirrors what the Warrens have with their artifact room. The idea’s to flip things on its head, to see the darker side. What happens when the Warrens get it wrong?” A more evil version of the Warrens’ artifact room sounds like an absolute disaster waiting to happen, but Chaves didn’t say more about what to expect from that.
In the footage’s most visceral moment, the demon contorts David’s body into horrific, painful configurations, the pretzel-like quality of which is pretty gruesome. Chaves revealed this moment was brought to life with the help of 12-year-old contortionist Emerald Wulf, who appeared on America’s Got Talent last year. “That’s all in-camera and it’s not sped up at all,” said Chaves. “We did have CG in that we did face replacement, but there is no wire work, that’s all her just doing it. What’s crazy is that’s at speed. The plan was she was gonna do this slow rise up and we did a couple takes like that, and then I was asked Emerald ‘can you do that any different?’ And she was like ‘I could do a really fast version’ and she did it and you could just hear [the crew] trying to like keep their lunch in because it was just so unnerving. And Patrick [Wilson] and Vera [Farmiga]’s honest reaction [is in] there when they’re looking at her.”
It’s at this point that Arne confronts the demon, calling it a coward and telling it to leave David alone. As Ed admonishes Arne for speaking to the demon, David leaps onto Ed’s chest and, in a voice not his own, growls “I’ll stop your heart, old man!” Sure enough, Ed begins to suffer a heart attack and collapses onto the floor. Arne ignores Ed’s advice, grabs David, and bargains with the demon: “leave him alone and take me.” That’s a deal the demon seems willing to accept. David stabilizes and Arne’s eyes gloss over as the entity enters his body. Ed sees all this happen, but his seizing heart keeps him from saying anything in the moment. At this point, the image freezes (in grand Conjuring opening scene fashion) and on-screen text sets up the fallout of this exorcism about to be explored, promising the events that follow “led Ed and Lorraine to the most sinister discovery of their career.”
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’s first eleven minutes make it clear that the characters involved in this botched exorcism will face major repercussions, physically and spiritually. “The Warrens kind of have to realign what their assumptions are. I think that’s always important when you’re dealing with faith. Sometimes you have to question the things that you first assume. They go into [the exorcism], they make an assumption of what they’re dealing with, then they’re proven wrong and they have to face those consequences. Ed really did have a heart attack in the ‘80s and it was debilitating, it left him in a wheelchair for a period of time and that’s something that you’ll see.”
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Images
But it wasn’t the Warrens, the Glatzels, or Arne Johnson who paid the dearest price in this case. Unlike other Conjuring films up to this point, the alleged possession that took place had fatal results for a man, Johnson’s landlord, Alan Bono, who was murdered by Johnson in the days after David’s exorcism. The trial that followed, in which Johnson became the first person in American history to claim demonic possession as a defense in court, serves as the main plot of The Devil Made Me Do. Chaves spoke at length about how acutely aware he is of the sensitive nature of the film’s story but hopes that aligning it with the beliefs of those involved is enough to keep the film’s moral head above water. “Honestly, when I got the script, as excited to do this movie as I was, I was also conflicted by the fact that there’s a real victim, there’s a man who lost his life and we’re not even telling it from that point of view, we’re telling it from the point of view of the man who claimed to be possessed, the man who took his life, the murderer,” Chaves said.
“That was something from the very beginning I [hoped to get] right and I hope I tell that story fairly because I don’t think you can downplay that at all. You can look up [the trial] on Wikipedia and you can see how [it] turned out, what actually happened to [Johnson]. He never denied murdering [his landlord] and justice ultimately was served. He went to jail and he served his time and that was also one of the things that I definitely wanted to show in the film, that wherever you stand on this, whatever your belief is, our courts worked, our system worked, and justice was served,” Chaves said.
“But ultimately, this is a Conjuring film, the story of the Warrens and their experience and their journey. They believe this happened, they believed in Arne Johnson so much, they put their careers on the line, went to trial, and testified for him. So [Conjuring films] are always stories about faith. Usually, they’re stories about our faith in God or the characters’ faith in God, and in [The Devil Made Me Do It], I think it’s much more about the faith we put in other people. Just like [Johnson’s] girlfriend at the time, Debbie Glatzel, who is the sister to David Glatzel, she was there and she testified on his behalf and she married him in jail, she stayed with him her entire life, she believed him, she stuck by him. When I was looking at this, I have struggled to decide what I believe, what actually happened, but what I decided is my belief needs to take a backseat to their story, and ultimately, it’s the story of their faith and the faith they put in each other.”
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It premieres on HBO Max and in theaters on June 4, 2021.