The Conjuring 2 started off like a 4 star horror movie but by the end it was lingering around the number 3. And I think I know why. From the scrolling written intro, with its truly hair-raising choral blast old school horror soundtrack, we’re literally bombarded with every trick James Wan wants to throw at us. Everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink which possible does fly across the kitchen at one point.
The double whammy of gorgeous Patrick Wilson and classy Vera Farmiga ushers us into the famous Amityville House in the film’s prologue. Ghost-hunting duo the Warrens hold a séance and Lorraine (Farmiga) finds herself stuck in the video shop rental classic Amityville 2: The Possession, walking around the house reliving the massacre of the original family.
Only with this being a 15-rated crowd-pleaser, the grit and grime of the original story is gone and replaced by slick production values and none of the visceral horror felt back in the day. Confronted in the Amityville basement by the ghost-train-screamer Evil Nun, Lorraine wakes from her trance and swears to never get ‘this close to hell’ again.
Fast forward to the UK in the 70s where the famous Enfield Haunting is about to take place. Well-documented and infamous, this haunting inspired the cult classic ‘Ghostwatch’ shown on UK TV in 1992, when respectable TV presenters Sarah Green and Michael Parkinson staged a faux haunted house documentary and conned half the country into believing they were seeing a real live horror show play out on good old BBC1. I was one of the duped – at 11 years of age I was terrified and didn’t sleep for nights after.
I had some hopes that this movie would scare me just as much. And in parts it looked like that could well happen. As the Enfield haunting gets under way at the home of working class cockneys The Hodgsons, the targets of the poltergeist, Janet (Madison Wolfe) and Margaret (Lauren Esposito) wake up to bumps, bangs, creaks… And then in a spine-chilling scene, the raspy disembodied voice of an old man growling at them from the shadows. Truly terrifying, this and some subsequent scenes play on all the right fears. The dark. The noise downstairs. The heavy breathing coming from the other side of your protective duvet.
No genre stone is left unturned to scare the audience – and if you add to that some lovely characterisation of the Hodgson family and their neighbours as the paranormal shit hits the fan, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in for a treat. And you kind of are.
But then it all goes a bit wrong. Or it did for me. There’s a subplot with Lorraine Warren being stalked by the ghostly Nun, having premonitions of her husband’s grisly death, and whilst it’s intriguing and the Nun is always an enjoyable spook device, it does tend to make the whole film seem a little unfocused. Wan puts a great amount of effort into making us care for the Hodgsons only to then whisk us off to the USA to pepper in the Warrens’ story too. And quite frankly it’s not needed. Or at least we could do with less of it.
Talk is afoot of a spin-off concentrating on The Nun. Cool. She’s a good villain. People are scared by her presence. So why not hold back, give this film room to enjoy the characters at its heart – and save old Sister Sinister for her own frightfest?
The Warrens are approached to help the Hodgsons and so the film tails off further. A Tim Burtonesque demon emerging from the creepy zoetrope ‘The Crooked Man’, and levitating possessed teenagers only serve to make us think of the superior films they’re borrowed from, The Babadook and The Exorcist.
And whilst I welcome the character development and the heart on display in the kids meeting the ghost hunters and the stressed out mother finally finding some sort of support only to have it taken away again, far too much time is spent peddling schmaltz and sentimentality for my liking. Taking the running time to over 2 hours – which NO horror movie should even come near – it drags the film off on a tangent.
The villain, Bill Wilkins, is truly scary. Seeing him emerge from behind the TV, hearing his heavy breathing in the dark, watching him terrorise the kids and enjoy every moment, is blood curdling and brilliant. But once Wan tries to tie in the Nun, the evil demon chasing the Warrens, and hits us with exposition, claptrap about how to slay the demon by learning its true name (yawn) and not-so-subtle Christian propaganda, it’s time to tune out.
The Conjuring 2 could have been a 90-100 minute film that scared, moved and surprised me. But given the freedom to meander and the over-eagerness to crowd-please, it winds up a little bloated. But I still preferred it to the first movie.
It’s clearly going to be a long running franchise, with 70s throwback reports to people dying after seeing it, hysterical tweets about how terrifying it is. There will be another. And I will see it. I just hope they remember to trim the fat next time around. The golden rule of supernatural horror is that we’re always more scared of the unknown. Once you bring out the demons like you’re part of a thrill ride on a cheap fun fair, all you can offer are jump scares. And some of us want more.
Hear our review of The Conjuring 2 in our latest podcast episode, also looking at Dario Argento’s masterpiece ‘Suspiria’…