As a kid, I used to read tons of paranormal books, and one of the stories these books treated was that of the Enfield poltergeist. The Conjuring 2, a sequel to the 2013 smash hit, uses this case as a basis, and succeeds in much the same way as that original – it mixes heart and terror, and delivers a masterful haunted house experience.
In the 1970s, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) head to the Amityville house to see whether the murders committed there were demonically inspired. A vision of a demonic nun and Ed’s death terrifies Lorraine, and she decides to stop their hunts to protect him. Events soon take a turn, however, that brings them out of this self-imposed sabbatical – in 1977 Enfield, an overwhelmed single mother of four finds that something evil is in her home. The Warrens investigate, and believe her story when the youngest story starts to show signs of demonic possession. They try to help, but the malicious spirits do not intend to give up without a fight.
James Wan is one of the top horror filmmakers of our time, and The Conjuring 2 shows him on form. The movie is nothing particularly new – it treads many of the same beats as the original, and it is not as innovative as the first film as a result – but when it is constructed as masterfully as this, that doesn’t matter. Sure, we’ve seen all these scares before, but if they are employed well and manage to be scary, that puts them a cut above.
There are lots of scares, and they help to build up an atmosphere that is very unnerving – I’m not often frightened watching horror movies, but The Conjuring 2 is a chilling experience. This is in part because Wan refuses to rely solely on quiet-quiet-LOUD jump scares, instead using a roaming camera to mine every corner of darkness and control the space we see – nothing is scarier than having your vision steered so you can’t see the danger. Creating this powerlessness ups the ante considerably.
Wilson and Farmiga reprise their roles from the original, and they bring heart to the film and well as a feeling of security. The movie also succeeds in differentiating itself by introducing a few sceptics and, although it’s clear which side of the argument the movie falls on there, the suggestion that this may be a hoax adds an interesting dynamic to the film. They have an easy-going chemistry, and it helps propel the film through some of the less scary moments.
Similarly, we actually care for the family – the children actors are particularly good, and any horror viewer worth their salt knows that a bad child actor completely defuses any tension a film may build. Fortunately, Madison Wolfe as Janet, the youngest, delivers a quality performance that emphasises the human element. At its heart, this is a human story, and it deals with a family who suffers because nobody believe them as much as it does because of the haunting.
The movie is not completely without fault – at two hours, it feels overlong, and it boils down (as all these films do) to a showdown between spirit and hero that lacks any form of drama because the conclusion is completely forgone. There is also an interesting issue with the pacing and the structure of the tale – the Warrens don’t arrive in England until halfway through the movie, and after an hour of horror in the Hodgson house, it serves only to stall the tale a bit.
These flaws do not detract from the overall experience of the movie – The Conjuring 2 sets out to scare and it does so, building up an atmosphere of fear and tension that is guaranteed to chill you, but imbuing it with a human element that will get you invested emotionally too.
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren), Vera Farmiga (Lorraine Warren), Madison Wolfe (Janet Hodgson), Frances O’Connor (Peggy Hodgson), Lauren Esposito (Margaret Hodgson), Benjamin Haigh (Billy Hodgson)
Running Time: 134 Mins