Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente
Director: James Wan
Writers: James Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson
In his sequel to The Conjuring James Wan focuses on another famous paranormal incident from the 1970s: the Enfield Poltergeist. When watching the director at work in this time period, it is immediately apparent how much he has been influenced by the horror films of this era such as The Omen, Poltergeist and, aptly enough, The Amityville Horror. He has drawn from these movies cinematic tricks and techniques that elevates his style of horror above the usual crop of lazy, unimaginative movies that think making a viewer jump is the same thing as scaring them. The Conjuring 2 is essentially a showcase of 70s and 80s horror movie practices put together by a director who understands how and why they work. While the sequel isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor, whose characters resonated a little more strongly and horror was meted out a little more evenly, The Conjuring 2 is still a worthwhile film that shines like a beacon amid the endless stream of tired, mediocre horror movies still being made today.
The film opens in 1976 with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) investigating the Amityville Horror. During a séance Lorraine receives a haunting vision of a demonic figure and a dark premonition of Ed’s fate. So unsettled is she by this vision that she begs Ed to stop going on investigations for a while. A year later the Hodgson family in London starts encountering strange experiences in their home, most of them involving Janet (Madison Wolfe), the second oldest of the four children. Once it becomes clear that these occurrences are paranormal, the mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) starts looking for help from the church. After it is discovered that Janet might be the victim of a demonic possession, the story becomes a media sensation and eventually reaches the Warrens. Lorraine, still troubled by her vision and fearing for Ed’s life, reluctantly agrees to follow Ed to London but warns him not to get too involved in the case. There they hope to discover the true nature of this demonic threat and save the Hodgsons from the spirit haunting them.
There are some great moments of horror in this film. Using some of the tricks he’s picked up from the horror movies of this era such as the uncomfortably long takes of Kubrick’s The Shining and the eerie lighting of Friedkin’s The Exorcist Wan is able to create some truly creepy scenes. A good example is when Ed Warren first attempts to interview the spirit possessing Janet. Here the camera is fixed squarely on Ed’s face and depicts his reaction while Janet sits out of focus in the background. This staging places an amplified focus on the creepy voice coming out of this 12-year-old girl while also allowing for a strong degree of ambiguity in regards to whether or not the Warrens actually believe that this is an authentic paranormal threat. The scares however are not as consistent or as effective as they were in the first film due to issues of tone and pacing. There are number of scenes that, while not bad, are just unnecessary and could easily have been cut out to allow for a tighter, scarier experience. One such example is a scene where Patrick Wilson does his best Elvis and serenades the family with a rendition of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. It’s fun, but distracting.
As in the first film Wilson and Farmiga are utterly devoted to their roles and deliver equally strong performances. Farmiga is particularly compelling as Lorraine undergoing a crisis in confidence and faith. Challenging her faith is the fantastically designed demon nun haunting her visions with sacrilegious images and a premonition of Ed’s death. She struggles throughout the film to keep Ed safe and to keep herself from going insane and Farmiga sells every second of it. The Hodgsons are not quite as strongly defined or relatable as the family in the first film which means that some of the horror loses its weight. Frances O’Connor is fine but doesn’t really leave much of an impact as the distressed mother. Wolfe does a decent job playing the little girl being tortured by this spirit but I cannot help but compare her to Eleanor Worthington-Cox’s terrific turn as the same character in Sky’s The Enfield Haunting.
The Conjuring 2 doesn’t quite hit the mark to the same extent as its predecessor or indeed any of the films it so clearly emulates. However, with the aggravating number of cheap, lazy horrors being made today, any film in this genre made by a director with actual cinematic competence is welcome. Wan is certainly a capable director and his technical skill in producing horror within the vein of movies made in the 70s and 80s is indisputable. He shows a remarkable level of attention to detail in his desire to pay homage to these films as can be seen in his accurate recreation of the time period. His mistake with this film was getting carried away with it and adding in more than was needed. A little more time in the editing room might have allowed this film to be the equal of the first Conjuring movie. Nevertheless The Conjuring 2 still delivers the scares where it counts and is worth a watch, if only because decent horror movies are a rare commodity these days.