I was a fan of The Conjuring when it came out in 2013 so when I heard that a sequel was being made by the same director, James Wan, I carefully avoided any news or trailers for it. With the films Insidious and The Conjuring, Wan had proven himself to be a master of the jump scare. He understood the importance of utilizing smaller budgets to build understated tension in those horror films, and really seemed to have a grasp on the idea that it’s what we don’t see that actually makes for a scarier movie than what we do see. I wanted to go into this movie with no preconceptions and let it be something that would scare me in its own right.
I was therefore quite surprised when the film began and it turned out to be yet another telling of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s most famous “true haunting” case The Amityville Horror! At least that’s how it appeared for about the first fifteen minutes. In reality, the film turned out to be more about another famous case known as the Enfield Haunting. This was a case in the town of Enfield, England in which a single mother and her children found themselves haunted by the ghost of an old man that had died in their house. Only this movie manages to link the two cases, Amityville and Enfield, together via the specter of a demonic nun figure with skeletal facepaint. Without giving too much away, it turns out that the Warrens must come face-to-face with an even greater and more terrifying evil in order to get to the heart of both hauntings.
I’m somewhat torn on this movie. The first Conjuring was a tight, focused haunted house tale that was effectively creepy and that managed to present a mostly believable “true story” of what a haunting could be like (for those inclined to believe in hauntings). The Conjuring 2, by contrast, makes the classic mistake that tends to be made when major studios gets involved with horror movies. Namely, they go overboard. They spend too much money on special effects, throw in too many action sequences, make things bigger and noisier and larger-than-life, and in the process water down the very elements that make a film truly scary in the first place. The genius of Insidious and The Conjuring was in knowing what not to show, so I was genuinely disappointed that Wan went so over the top with this latest offering. There were moments where I felt I could be watching an episode of something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the sheer amount of destruction and its grand finale show-down with the “big bad.” The narrative seemed scattered, in comparison to the first movie, and I didn’t feel that I got to know all of the characters as well as I would have liked.
Having said all that I have to concede, three days after seeing the movie, there are scenes and images that continue to stick with me. The ghostly voice, calling from the darkness, demanding that the family “get out of his house.” The ghostly hand, reaching through the ceiling, pulling a child into a dark and locked room. The rocking chair, in which the old man died, moving with nobody in it. There are some very effective scares mixed in, and the scenes that are done well have a staying power that’s easily on a par with the best of James Wan’s work. It’s just too bad that they aren’t incorporated into an all-around better movie. This film takes on too much and, in the process, loses its narrative cohesion. At times it goes so far overboard that it loses its ability to scare and borders on being unintentionally campy. It’s not without its moments, but overall I found it to be something of a disappointment.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
In 1977, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) come out of a self-imposed sabbatical to travel to Enfield, a borough in north London. There, they meet Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), an overwhelmed single mother of four who tells the couple that something evil is in her home. Ed and Lorraine believe her story when the youngest daughter starts to show signs of demonic possession. As the Warrens try to help the besieged girl, they become the next target of the malicious spirits.
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Franka Potente, Frances O’Connor
Written by: James Wan, Chad Hayes, David Leslie Johnson, Carey Hayes
Directed by: James Wan