The Conjuring 2
US (2016) Dir. James Wan
Back in the 1980s, when there was something strange in your neighbourhood, you would call Ghostbusters – in the 1970s it was husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. They became well known in the US for their ghost busting, so it was inevitable they would cross the pond to deal with a good old British haunting.
In 1977, Enfield schoolgirl Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) uses a homemade Ouija board with her elder sister Margaret (Lauren Esposito) to no effect. That night, Janet is woken by strange noises, and then begins sleepwalking which her mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) puts down to a fever. Stranger things start to occur around the house until the whole family witness furniture moving on its own and Janet talking via a ghostly voice.
When British paranormal expert Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) is unable to draw a conclusion, the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farminga) are called in by the church in the US to visit the house and find themselves in a power struggle with the spirit of the house’s former owner. Meanwhile, Lorraine has been plagued with nightmares of a creepy nun demon and premonitions of Ed’s death.
Horror seems to be a genre that lends itself to franchise building more than most others, perhaps second only to comic book adaptations. James Wan has form in this area, having directed the first SAW film which spawned many sequels and spin-offs, and with the Warrens’ legit catalogue of cases to their name, it was inevitable there would be a sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring – and you didn’t need psychic powers to see it coming either.
Once again based on true events, this dramatisation of the Enfield Poltergeist story is less glamorous than its predecessor from being set in North London, instead of a typically idyllic US locale. But the story’s true infamy is the fact it is widely purported to have been a hoax by Janet and Margaret, despite some still insisting there is an element of truth to it.
Naturally, as this version has been embellished for dramatic licence, this aspect of the story is addressed yet downplayed to suit the overarching narrative of the Conjuring diegesis. In that regard, the extent of the happenings have been tied in with the curse of the demonic nun that has been haunting Lorraine, essentially adding the fictional twist of the Enfield Poltergeist being real, possibly to the annoyance of the many doubters at the time.
To contextualise this case, the film opens in 1976 as the Warrens are holding a séance to determine if a man who murdered his family in a house in Amityville was possessed by a demonic presence. When they get the call to investigate the Enfield Poltergeist, it is sold to them as “the British Amityville”, although this is limited to the demonic possession theory since Janet has murdered anybody – yet.
Prior to the Warrens’ arrival, the spooky occurrences begin with Janet but soon include her siblings; Margaret witnesses her sister levitating whilst she herself is pulled from her own bed. Meanwhile, their younger brothers Johnny and Billy (Patrick McAuley and Benjamin Haigh) witness their toys moving on their own and someone, or rather something, living in their tent.
Giving this an earthy feel, the council house the Hodgsons live in is rather squalid, due to the impecunity of single mother Peggy, now her philandering ex-husband has taken everything. Our first sight of Peggy is her arguing on the phone about an unpaid bill which she can’t afford to honour, before lecturing Janet about smoking whilst puffing away on a fag!
Maybe we should thank the disruptive spirit of past tenant Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian) for brightening up the dreary existence of the Hodgsons to take their mind off their poverty for a while. Bill is quite a bold spirit, making his presence felt before the neighbours, the police and a local TV crew, yet somehow is shy when the Warrens try to communicate with him – maybe as devout Christians, their religious adornments bother him.
Religion vs. the paranormal has been a battle of the ages, cemented on screen in The Exorcist, for the second time a transparent influence on The Conjuring. This makes the Warrens seem a bit cheesy and incongruous in a grey, working class British setting. In a similar vein, the Hollywood final act, like the first film, delivers a pacey, dramatic, but convention-adhering climax, in contrast to the gritty “realism” of the prior content.
Unusually, the story is a noticeably more dominant that the visual spectacle, likely due to the disputed validity of the real Enfield Poltergeist. Therefore, the script relies on the hokiest of distractions to keep things moving, such as the scene where Ed has his Eureka moment, but needs to set up to tape machines to validate them – all of which takes place on a train waiting to leave the station!
Forgive me for this but I also have to rant on the British accents, which are very much in the Hollywood approximation of how we sound rather than an accurate portrayal. It doesn’t help that Madison Wolfe, who is very good as Janet, is American, whilst even the British actors are forced to sound like this, their accents flitting between the stereotype ‘50s posh and pseudo-cockney.
And don’t get me started on the use of London Calling when the film is set two years before it came out, or Janet watching The Goodies on TV during the day when it aired at night! Fortunately, the scares are well timed and often unpredictable whilst the effects and editing are superbly done as they should be, although the evil nun looks like Marilyn Manson!
Closing The Conjuring 2 with genuine audio recordings and photos from the Warrens’ investigation is a nice touch, whether a hoax or not, adding to the creepiness of it all. Like before, nothing new here but still a serviceable seasonal watch.