- 22 Jun 21
Having previously won plaudits for directing Billie Eilish’s ‘Bury A Friend’ video, Michael Chaves has succeeded in making 'The Devil Made Me Do It' the scariest and most ambitious of all the Conjuring films. He tells Kate Brayden where it all went fright...
The real-life 1981 murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson is being brought to life in the eighth film in the hugely successfulConjuring franchise, The Devil Made Me Do It. Directed by Michael Chaves, the latest movie centres on a defendant in a murder trial who uses demonic possession as a defence for the first time in US judicial history.
Known for his work on fellow Conjuring spin-off The Curse Of La Llorona as well as helming the terrifically creepy ‘Bury A Friend’ music video for Billie Eilish, Chaves uses his talents as screenwriter, visual effects artist, producer and editor to dazzling effect in the movie.
The film also sees Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their previous roles as husband-and-wife paranormal investigators, Lorraine and Ed Warren. They story revolves around the case of the aforementioned Johnson, who faced manslaughter charges for the killing of his landlord, Alan Bono. According to the Glatzel family’s testimony, 11-year-old David Glatzel had allegedly played host to the demon that forced Johnson to kill Bono.
Speaking to Hot Press from California two years after filming took place in Atlanta, Chaves is finally able to speak about the thrilling new project, which remains close to his heart as a fan of James Wan, creator of the Conjuring universe. Hearing the director eagerly open up about The Devil Made Me Do It, his pride in his cast in apparent.
“Honestly, my favourite memories from the shoot were definitely centred around great moments with the actors,” he enthuses. “Patrick and Vera were amazing. As much as this is James Wan’s franchise, it’s also theirs. They are a core part of the experience. Before starting it, James made sure I knew that the ‘secret sauce’ of the entire Conjuring world was the Warrens: Patrick and Vera.
“I found that to be true every single day. They’re wonderful on screen and have this unrivalled chemistry. One of the reasons why everyone comes back to The Conjuring is because those two are the heart and soul of the movie. Their friendship on set truly elevates the experience and brings joy to the entire crew – everyone smiles easier. I had the best time working with them. Their natural ability to work together comes from a place of mutual respect that has developed over the years.”
Of course, Farmiga and Wilson have the task of portraying real-life people, with the Warrens gaining notoriety in 1952 after creating the oldest ghost hunting group in New England. While Ed was a self-taught, self-described demonologist, Lorraine professed to be clairvoyant. Claiming to have investigated over 10,000 incidents, the Warrens worked on the Amityville haunting case, and popularised the Annabelle doll and Enfield poltergeist legends.
“I’ve always been impressed with how close Vera and Patrick’s interpretations are to the real Ed and Lorraine Warren,” notes Chaves. “Three movies in, their versions have evolved past the original Warrens into Vera and Patrick’s own cinematic creations. It’s grown out of a really authentic place. Vera basically approached the first Conjuring like a biopic. At that time, Lorraine Warren was still alive.
“Vera spent a lot of time getting to know her and researching the couple’s cases, whereas Ed wasn’t present to inform Patrick’s portrayal. He had to go through archival photos and interviews to shape who Ed was. In the end, Patrick moulded his own version of Ed, which became the definitive version of him.”
Relative newcomer Ruairí O’Connor landed the pivotal role of Arne Johnson after appearing in Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did, John Butler’s Handsome Devil and STARZ series The Spanish Princess. The Dublin native and Lír Academy graduate was chosen by Chaves to portray the 19-year-old who pleads not guilty to murder by reason of demonic possession.
“Ruairí was absolutely amazing. For such a young guy, he’s got brilliant instincts,” Chaves says of the rising Howth star. “The role of Arne Johnson is a really complex one, and it was incredibly hard to cast. From the very beginning, when I first read the script and started talking to James Wan, I knew that Arne was going to be the cornerstone of this movie.
“Finding the right guy to play him took a crazy amount of auditions. We spoke to so many people and explored a lot of ideas about who Arne is and could be, but Ruairí brought the depth of emotion. He also brought complexity and something really honest and heartbreaking to the role. Arne is a tragic figure, even though he’s a murderer. There is a tragedy to that story, and Ruairí just knocked it out of the park.”
Part of what draws audiences to The Conjuring is the real life cases behind the horror, and a fascination with the Warrens’ demonology beliefs. Did Chaves have any faith in the couple’s authenticity, or were they simply profiting from sensationalised stories?
“To a degree, it’s almost impossible to keep your own beliefs and who you are separate from the film. It’s just human nature to have an opinion,” the director acknowledges. “I was raised Catholic, but my own views had to take a back seat. In the previous Conjuring stories, there’s never been a true victim. Without a doubt, there’s a real culprit in The Devil Made Me Do It because a murder actually took place. Everyone involved in this project wanted to be respectful of that.
“It’s definitely the darkest Conjuring yet. That phrase is often used as a marketing ploy to reel people in, but there really is a depth to this tale. I showed the final cut to Vera and her husband, and they agreed that The Devil Made Me Do It truly goes places that we haven’t experienced before.
“Up to this point, it’s been haunted house films. This blows the doors off that trend, and really takes the Warrens out into the world. The movie pushes the boundaries of what you’d expect from the series, but also the horror genre as a whole. That’s what makes it really exciting. It’s the greatest thrill to be working within horror.”
• The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is in cinemas now.