15 – 134mins – 2016
Fast & Furious 7 director James Wan forwent the opportunity to climb back behind the wheel of the eighth big money Vin Diesel-lead car/heist ensemble in favour of returning to his beloved horror genre and reopening the case files of real life spiritualists Ed and Lorraine Warren.
With 2013’s retro-spooker The Conjuring earning big box office, high praise and a spin-off in demented doll origin story Anabelle (2014), and with the opportunity open for multiple ghost-hunting adventures, Wan reteamed Vera Farmiga (Special Correspondents) and Patrick Wilson (Insidious) as the husband and wife ‘busters and dived into their large backlog of chilling investigations.
Opening by touching on their most famous case (1974’s Amityville murders), this polished and effective sequel then jumps across the pond to a council house in Enfield, England in 1977 where a pesky poltergeist is giving harangued single mum Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children sleepless nights with many an unexplained phenomena – none more chilling than possessing the vocal cords of toothy middle child Janet (a standout performance from Madison Wolfe).
Wan’s attention to detail with the period dress is spot on, so too the overcast greys of lower-middle class Britain. He handles the notorious and well-documented case with aplomb, creating a near omni-tense aura of fear and getting effective scares out of toy fire trucks rolling across the floor and TVs channel hopping all by themselves – usually hackneyed genre tropes.
While the actual ‘haunting’ has been questioned and debunked by sceptics over the years (the sisters have admitted to exaggerating “2%” of the activity, while they were caught on camera faking one para-attack), Wan does a fine job of orchestrating the scares so that the Hodgson’s claims are open to opposition from the outside world. There’s no doubt in the director’s mind, however, that an inhuman presence is terrifying this poor family.
By tying the case so closely to demonic nun visions Ed and Lorraine are having while at home in Connecticut (convenient), the film’s veracity does start to wobble – especially when the activity is ramped up to shark-jumping levels thanks to some obvious CG ghouls, and the Warren’s are painted as the demon-defeating heroes in a story they were really only bit-part players in.
Nevertheless, The Conjuring 2 is still a superior spook-fest which had me properly jumping out of my cinema seat TWICE. True, the long runtime could be snipped to make for a more succinct narrative (the Amityville intro and scenes with the Warren’s underused daughter could easily be excised), but when a horror film is this good, I won’t denounce a bit of superfluous scene-setting – or Patrick Wilson crooning out an Elvis number.