The Conjuring 2, 2016.
Directed by James Wan.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney and Franke Potente.
Enfield, North London, 1977. The Hodgson family are plagued by a terrifying poltergeist, attracting the attention of American paranormal investigators, Ed & Lorraine Warren, who must take a leap of faith to help them…
If ever proof existed that ghosts and poltergeists are much more than just fiction, the Enfield haunting of 1977 is probably the closest we’ve ever gotten, making it ripe for big screen adaptation and a perfect choice when it comes to a sequel to The Conjuring. Arguably one of the most potent, stylish and ultimately scary horror movies of the last decade, James Wan’s original fictionalised the real-life work of legendary, God-fearing married American paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren, who anyone with even a passing interest in paranormal activity will probably have heard of.
Name a supernatural case that broke out into the media mainstream in the 70’s & 80’s and the Warren’s were probably nearby, and indeed Wan begins The Conjuring 2 by landing them right in the middle of the Amityville case (arguably the incident that would give Enfield a serious run for its money), meaning we get two for one on legendary true story investigations. It’s a prism to re-introduce the Warren’s and establish the central conflict within Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine primarily, before Wan’s picture shifts to depict not just the Warren’s crisis of faith in their work but carefully establish the events in London. He doesn’t rush and he doesn’t need to, as The Conjuring 2 often masterfully turns up the screws of terror to breaking point.
It’s a classic and timeless story really – a normal, working class family are terrorised by something from beyond the grave, an inhuman presence who centres it’s apparent poltergeist activity around 15 year old Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe), who with her sister, two brothers and harried single mother begin to increasingly experience a cavalcade of terror in their home; beds shaking, toys coming to life on their own, cupboards moving, lights blowing out, footsteps, banging, guttural sounds and, crucially, the possession of Janet by a malevolent spirit named ‘Bill Wilkins’. Wan’s film holds greater weight given the fact the majority of events depicted did actually happen – Janet was photographed levitating, the voice of ‘Bill’ was recorded in an infamous audio tape (which we hear for real over the end credits), and the Warren’s did indeed go to Enfield and investigate.
That’s the jumping off point, allowing Wan & co-writers Chad & Carey Hayes & David Leslie Johnson to craft a story which gives real heart to the under siege Hodgson family and tells a narrative, ultimately, about faith; Lorraine is beset by visions suggesting Ed (played with all-American leading man brio by Patrick Wilson) will die if they take on further cases, and it’s impressive how Wan’s film works so well even when they sit the majority of the first half out. It becomes a story about how Lorraine, much like Janet & the Hodgson family in general, must confront their fears and believe in order to conquer them, and indeed said fears turn out to be more extricably linked than any of them think.
The details of that are worth knowing less about however for greater first time enjoyment, as while The Conjuring 2 doesn’t exactly pull the rug from under you, it does at least build to a quite electric, powerful, William Friedkin-honouring crescendo; indeed one might suggest a lot of Wan’s film owes a debt to The Exorcist, which is clearly an inspiration. Wan attempts to create that same sort of atmosphere, one of creeping dread, growing teenage exploitation and horror, and while it never tips as vicious or cold as that movie (there’s a river of sentimentality in this, epitomised when Ed sings to the Hodgson children, in the only cheesy moment), Wan drips his film in kitchen sink fear.
Where the Warren’s American home is light and bright, the Hodgson’s–where most of the film is set–is bathed in a grey, washed, grimy pallor which reflects their austerity and the sense the house has an old, grizzly personality. It’s a great setting for Wan to execute some genuine jump scares, the director having a talent in cleverly sending you one way and having the horror hit you almost where you’re not looking – again, he knows how to make your heart skip a beat. Despite all this, the story never ignores the other major, controversial element to Enfield – the long held claims it was all a hoax by Janet, with Franke Potente’s unsympathetic academic on the doubting side, Simon McBurney’s geeky British investigator Maurice Grosse on the other, and to an extent the Warren’s fairly in the middle. While the film ultimately believes Enfield was very real, it at least has the conviction to put the opposite school of thought across.
Whether what happened in Enfield is true or not, it’s a terrifying true life story which has lingered in the public paranormal consciousness as one of the best evidence cases that the spirit world may well exist, and that it may not necessarily be friendly. The Conjuring 2 takes that suggestion and runs with it, James Wan on the whole balancing the accepted facts and train of events, while taking dramatic license where he needs to and ultimately veering off into a terrifying story of faith, belief and personal horror for our heroes Ed & Lorraine Warren. If perhaps it slightly lacks the punch and primal terror of the first movie, this sequel genuinely isn’t far off reaching those heights.
Stylish, well-written, dripping in period 70’s atmosphere and, importantly, often scary, let’s hope with his sojourns into Fast & Furious and DC Comics, Wan doesn’t completely leave his horror roots behind and, one day, the Warren’s may return to conjure a third time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.