Release: 17th October 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
This supernatural thriller brings to the screen another real case from the files of renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. Reprising their roles, Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson star as Lorraine and Ed Warren, who, in one of their most terrifying paranormal investigations, travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits.
James Wan is a genre of cinema in and unto himself. Possibly not just the more visionary of his contemporaries but also the most emotionally invested. When Wan makes a movie you can feel his very soul stitched into the fabric of the image. There is no doubt he pours everything he has into transforming schlocky horror movies into terrifying and emotional thrill rides. But despite Wan’s natural abilities as a storyteller and filmmaker, he is often at his best when handling a new and original property. As a director, Wan is often walking a tightrope of emulation and reinvention; ever nodding to classically brilliant horror, thrillers and reference points while moulding them into genuinely original scares. But when he decides, like Philippe Petit in The Walk, to turn on his toes and make a second trip along said tight rope; things become problematic. He often falls into the trap of assuming the journey has to be more grandiose the second time around; as if somehow the very event itself is not enough spectacle. This is very evident in The Conjuring 2.
The Enfield Haunting is possibly one of the most widely publicised paranormal conundrums in British history. It also has everything you would anticipate James Wan might be drawn to. There are strange happenings, multiple testimonies, ghosts, ghouls, demons, domestic terror, and more than just a little bit of psychological upheaval. The fact that Ed and Lorraine Warren had a flyby stint at 284 Green Street means that not only does it make perfect sense for sequel bait, but it is a natural progression in the story of two well established characters. The problem comes in that, as previously explained, the Warrens spent less time with the Hodgson family than it takes a pot of cress to grow; and in that short time, very little actually happened. In fact, truth be told, the real story was between the Hodgson’s and long term confidant Maurice Grosse (see the excellent Enfield Haunting mini series by Kristoffer Nyholm for an example of that story). So what James Wan does with The Conjuring 2 is take two loaves of bread and tries to feed the five-thousand. He stretches a very delicate narrative, but chooses to do so by introducing outright fiction and ludicrous supplementary moments such as the Crooked Man; which threaten to turn a spooky ghost story into an almost laughable monster movie.
This being said, Wan is too astute to squander good scares in favour of bulking out story. There is still an abundance of unease and a stipend of sleepless nights on offer – he does it all, and does so in style. In fact one the film’s standout moments is a prolonged monologue between two characters who aren’t even looking at each other. There is little time wasted on the validity of Janet’s ‘possessions’, (although it is briefly touched upon), instead Wan chucks us waist deep into the magical realism where a poltergeist can transform his host in the darkness of an armchair at will. The house is a character in its own right, bending and moving (much like The Overlook Hotel in The Shining) to the needs of its director and the story being told. One example of this is Janet’s ever growing bedroom; a place that expands tens of feet in length by the final showdown.
Even after all his efforts to beef up his story, Wan still has to yield at some point, and it is very evident that wandering eyes often rove to Ed and Lorraine’s marriage. There are moments when this feels less like a story about the Enfield Haunting and more like two adorable Ghostbusters expanding their love through the medium of banishing demons back to hell. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do give a lot of care to their portrayals though, and it is clear to see why a paranormal fanboy such as Wan might feel inclined to devote a little more effort to appreciating his protagonists. It also results in the highly convenient, utterly fabricated, yet hideously traumatising addition of the Demon Nun. The affiliation she shares with Lorraine Warren is enough for a film all of its own, but Wan gives it a little sprinkle of attention to make it relevant enough to the main plot to excuse its place here. You’ll never look at a painting in the same way again (thanks Ed! Maybe just a field a lilies next time, ay?)
From a technical standing, The Conjuring 2 is sound, and aside from a few dodgy, “alright, geezer!” accents, and just an awful faux stutter from Benjamin Haigh, the Hodgson cast are all wonderful (especially Madison Wolfe). Wilson and Farmiga deliver the goods again, with special kudos going to the latter for some gruelling expressive sessions. You can also call this The Conjuring 2.5 and cross the Amityville House off your list too, because Wan has you covered in the opening scene. Who said creepy glass-eyed children and sinister poltergeist granddads weren’t generous!?
Film Grade: B-
There seems to be a lot of behind-the-scenes footage on offer here, without any real texture or depth. Crafting The Conjuring 2 flies through the film’s conception, basis and execution, with some talking heads from the main cast and crew. But with someone as versed in film craft as James Wan, you’d hope a little more time might be devoted to his process.
The Enfield Poltergeist: Living the Horror, will make you feel even more suspicious of Janet and Margaret Hodgson. There is an air of sensationalism about the pair (one outspoken, the other overly meek), but Lorraine Warren seems sweet enough. Having a Daily Mirror photographer as the main ‘credible source’ undermines the narrative even more.
Creating Crooked is a blast, for no other reason than seeing how freakishly skinny Javier Botet is. Meanwhile it is impossible to gage who Hollywood’s Haunted Stage is aimed at. It is laughably awful, pointless and at 5 minutes, it’s about 4 minutes too long. Then The Sounds of Scare gives a surface level look at Joseph Bishara and his methods behind creating the film’s haunting score.
Finally some deleted scenes which should be labelled; ‘wet t-shirt’, ‘bedroom sulk’, ‘lame bullies, worse teacher’, and ‘if this really is happening to Janet we probably shouldn’t be listen to the eerie disembodied voice at full volume while she sits in the room next door.’
Special Features Grade: C+
Not the roaring follow-up to the original, but not a raging flop either. The Conjuring 2 has enough going for it to stand alone, but it is far from a subtle or even cautionary reflection on “true story” gauntlet horror seems to enjoy.