Director – James Wan
Cast – Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Franka Potente, Bob Adrian, Robin Atkin Downes, Bonnie Aarons, Javier Botet
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
After saying he was done with the horror genre, James Wan passed up unreal money to direct Fast 8 so that he could give us another installment to the Ed & Lorraine Warren legacy, stating “I feel rejuvenated to tell a scary story one more time”. This rejuvenation shows with The Conjuring 2. Based on the Enfield Poltergeist activity from the late 1970s, where a single mother and her four children were subject to paranormal activity occurring over the course of two years, the home was investigated by the Warrens and others like them. The story is a controversial one, blending unexplained phenomena with revelations of a hoax, and Wan & co. made the most of bringing it to the screen. Coupled with fantastic direction and overwhelming jolts, this is an experience I highly recommend.
At the request of the Catholic Church, Ed and Lorraine Warren travel to north London to investigate claims of paranormal activity plaguing a mother and her children. Their mission: report the authenticity of the claims to the Church. From a Ouija board, to banging on the walls, furniture moving on its own, levitation, demon possession, and ties to the Warrens themselves, they face a dark presence that has been clearly underestimated. When evidence of a hoax arises, it is up to the duo to take matters into their own hands and save the family as well as themselves.
The story comes penned by the writers from The Conjuring – James Wan, Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes – and was then rewritten for the screen by Orphan writer David Leslie Johnson. We follow the Warrens still reeling from a traumatic encounter they had with a previous demon when the Church approaches them. The Church has received word of the Enfield hauntings but will not begin exorcism proceedings unless they can be sure the claims are authentic. Performing an exorcism and the case turning out to be a hoax would be bad publicity. The real conflict to this is that Lorraine experienced a premonition that spelled bad news for the couple, so she is of course hesitant to push the matter. At the same time, the story is interweaving with the paranormal events going on in the home of Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor). The haunting is tame at first, toying at the children with inanimate objects coming to life and strange noises bellowing from the walls. There is little time for Peggy to deny their claims though, as the presence is not shy and makes itself known to her as well. Much like in the real life events, the Warrens show up in an observing role, not intending to cleanse the home of the entity. It is when they dig deeper into whether or not the youngest child, Janet, is faking her possession that Lorraine begins to feel her earlier premonition coming into place. The Warrens are now sucked in.
At 134 minutes this effort focuses heavier on the story than its predecessor, which had 20 minutes less runtime. The writers do a good job of making you care for the leads, especially the adults. You feel for Peggy Hodgson, starting with her financial troubles, which only worsen when the entity sets its sights on her family. Lorraine Warren also gets equal conflict, fearing a battle with the dark forces after a recent close call and the realization that she may not be able to prevent harm coming her way. Surprisingly, there is even a heavy romantic element as well between Ed and Lorraine that I did not expect to see in such a film. The story grows deeper with consistent revelations about the demon, the home’s past, and of course, whether or not young Janet is faking her possession.
The horror seen here is the best I’ve seen all year. James Wan has proved himself as a mastermind of atmosphere, and he continues his reign here. To start, the sets and locations used are top-notch. The Hodgson’s home is heavy in dark shadows and gloom, which made for some serious jump scares that I fell victim to once. He also makes the most of a creepy musical score and knows just the right time to cut the music and leave the viewers squirming in their seats. There is a fair amount of CGI for the ghosts/demons we see, and I never minded it. I did actually enjoy the stop-motion use of one of the antagonists, but I suspect others will find it laughable. The look of the main demon was fantastic, and Wan used him superbly. There is an office scene involving this demon that shows Wan’s expert use of camerawork, atmosphere, and a sixth sense for what scares people. The acting performances are solid, and Wan exacts dramatics unlike any seen in his previous horror films. This is probably the most emotionally grueling story in the Conjuring / Insidious franchises, and he brings the best out of his actors here.
Overall, The Conjuring 2 is just as tremendous as its predecessor. It is rare that a sequel achieves such a feat, but James Wan once again delivers a fantastic tale of supernatural terror.