‘I have no idea what happened that day' - The Conjuring stars, Farmiga and Wilson

Fans can be forgiven for their scepticism at seeing yet another film tagged with the “based on a true story” label, given Hollywood’s often questionable use of the term.

Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren, Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Picture: PA Photo/© 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

However, in the case of horror sequel The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the claim is well-earned.

The film, the latest instalment in the Conjuring cinematic universe, is inspired by the 1981 case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who, lawyers argued, was innocent of a murder in the small town of Brookfield, Connecticut, because he was possessed by a demon.

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The trial sparked a media frenzy and The Devil Made Me Do It tracks the case from the exorcism of a little boy to the trial’s conclusion.

It sees the return of series stalwarts Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, reprising their roles as real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, to deliver more thrills and chills as they attempt to solve another case of the unexplained.

Wilson believes the strength of the source material makes the latest film stand out against its predecessors.

He says: “The fact that it’s not a haunted house film, we’re not re-treading some of the same ground. I would say it’s much more of a love story and a much darker story, because of the real-life consequences of this being about a homicide.

“So it grounds it in a way that – no disrespect to the other movies which I obviously love – but it’s a different feel.

“And they knew that from the beginning, when we were thinking, ‘OK, what do you do for the third one?’ We cannot keep re-treading the same ground, so we have to find new ways to tell these stories. And, yes, still in the horror genre but we’re into more of a thriller land.”

The Devil Made Me Do It sees Ed and Lorraine working to prove the innocence of Arne, played by Irish actor Ruairi O’Connor, after he blacks out and stabs a friend to death.

Their investigations take them far beyond the confines of the usual haunted house setting and the paranormal experts tackle unhelpful police officers, suspicious clergymen and unsolved murders.

Farmiga describes seeing Ed and Lorraine working in the real world as “adorable”.

She says: “There are now also notes of mystery and suspense, of detective work. It’s just deepened the subject matter. You see the work and you get to spend more time with them.”

Wilson and Farmiga, both 47, are veterans of the horror genre thanks to the Conjuring franchise, having appeared in the previous two films, as well as spin-off Annabelle Comes Home.

Bates Motel star Farmiga – a close friend of Wilson’s off set – compares reprising the role of Lorraine to stepping into “an old pair of shoes”.

She says: “I love coming back to play this character, time and time again. I don’t know how to speak about it other than esoterically, I just love the frequency of this female character.

“I love who she is, I love her unwavering faith, I love that nothing disturbs her or frightens her, she won’t allow it to. She’s someone who believes that patience and faith and compassion overcome all things diabolical. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful representation of a woman. I love her incredible empathy and concern for others. I love revisiting that.”

Despite their familiarity with the characters and importance to a blockbuster franchise that has so far grossed more than 1.8 billion US dollars (£1.2 billion) at the box office, Wilson insists there is no complacency.

To that end, he and Farmiga praise The Devil Made Me Do It director Michael Chaves, who replaced James Wan, the film-maker responsible for the first two Conjuring movies.

“The last thing we want to be is complacent, or have a director come in and go, ‘You guys do your thing’,” Wilson says. “We said from the get-go with Michael Chaves, ‘Listen, we know these guys inside out, we know our versions, you gotta direct us’. Not that he needed that, but we wanted him to know I savour being directed.”

Wilson cites the example of Al Pacino, with whom he worked on 2003 miniseries Angels In America, as a top-tier actor who wanted to be directed, in that case by Mike Nichols.

“Actors want to be directed,” Wilson says.

“We want to be pushed, so that was something we were very conscious of when Chaves stepped in. We also wanted him to feel comfortable.”

Farmiga echoes Wilson and praises Chaves for bringing some levity to a film about demonic possession.

She says: “For me, because of the darkness of what we shoot, it’s really imperative that we have a joyfulness and a playfulness on set, and that’s how he operates.

“His eagerness – it’s an energy that keeps things light on its feet and fun-loving and moving forward, because things can get really, really dark.

“And it’s a lot of emoting, but he has a way of uplifting us and making us giggle in two seconds flat. And that is so energising. He is amazing.”

O’Connor, also known for appearing in TV series The Spanish Princess, reveals it was not only Chaves who worked to bring some lightness to the set.

He says: “From the very start, Patrick and Vera were incredibly welcoming, gave me the run-down on how things work around there.

“Vera, at the first read though, tore into the room, shouted ‘Conjuring 3, baby!’ and started high-fiving everybody, so I knew from that point on I was probably going to be held a little bit and it was going to be a joyful and light experience, which is really surprising, as I thought it was going to be very dark and macabre.”

O’Connor also admits that, after starring in the film and playing the man at the centre of the mystery, he still has no clue as to what really happened in the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson.

He says: “It’s been the subject of loads of internet investigations, people really wonder about the case. And I really don’t know, I have no idea what happened that day – I really think very few people do.”

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