The Conjuring 2 – Film Review by David Turpin
Directed by James Wan
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Conner
Director James Wan and stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reunite for a second spurious “true story” following the success of 2013’s The Conjuring. This instalment takes as its basis the notorious “Enfield poltergeist” case of the late 1970s – with a quick stop at Amityville for good measure – and the result is a better-than-average re-tread, but a re-tread nonetheless.
The Enfield case saw single mother Peggy Hodgson (played here by Frances O’Connor) and her four children persecuted by malicious supernatural forces that appeared to have particular designs on youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). The details of the story may be familiar to some viewers from last year’s Sky television serial The Enfield Haunting, an intermittently atmospheric effort from director Kristoffer Nyholm that was ultimately scuppered by the opposing demands of entertainment and fidelity to fact. The Conjuring 2 has no such divided loyalty – it’s all entertainment, all the time (at almost two-and-a-half hours, it is a rather long time for a horror film). For a start, Lorraine and Ed Warren, the Connecticut-based paranormal investigators played by Farmiga and Wilson, were barely involved in the original Enfield case. Here, however, they are the full-blown heroes of the day, while the British investigator Maurice Grosse, who was well-played by Timothy Spall in Nyholm’s version, is largely relegated to comic relief, in a brief turn from Simon McBurney.
Like the original, The Conjuring 2 has been put together with a level of craft not usually afforded on throwaway horror fodder. Don Burgess’s cinematography is particularly expert, with each silky move calibrated for maximum nervous titters. The acting, also, is rock solid. Farmiga is the best in the business at this kind of thing and she treats the material with respect and commitment – although the plot shades more toward a focus on Wilson’s character in its latter stages. O’Connor, always an underrated actress, makes a sympathetic victim, largely carrying the early stages of the film. Elsewhere, there are welcome smaller parts for Franka Potente as a sceptical academic, and Maria Doyle Kennedy, popping up as a kindly neighbour who is also, amusingly, called Peggy.
As always with Wan, though, the apparitions themselves are a let-down. His pair of Insidious films were consistently undermined by hokey ghost-train villains, and the numinous entities here are similarly over-egged. For Wan, no spectre is complete without burning yellow eyes and row after row of computer-generated fangs. The initially unnerving ghostly nun who persecutes Lorraine, for instance, ends up looking like she wafted in from the set of the first Ghostbusters film. Moreover, after the generic “scary doll” of the first film got her own ropey vehicle in 2014’s Annabelle, Wan here makes a transparent attempt to create another spin-off-worthy figure in the “Crooked Man” who terrorises the Hodgson children. While the stop-motion-style animation with which the character is realised makes for an unusual texture in a contemporary horror film, the design of the character is an uninspired Tim Burton knock-off that seems more likely to inspire novelty merchandise than nightmares.
The period trappings are nicely turned, in a theme-park kind of way, although one wishes somebody had pointed out that 1970s British bobbies didn’t address women as “ma’am”. Where the design crew conjures unexpected pleasures, however, is in the delightfully cartoonish contrasting of parallel London and Connecticut suburbs – the former wet, grey, filthy and miserable; the latter emitting a peachy glow from every angle. It takes rather too long for the Warrens to arrive in London, but when they do, they bring a sun-kissed glow with them that makes them every bit as otherworldly as their adversaries. When Lorraine regales Janet with an account of her encounter with an angel, one can’t help but feel that to the beleaguered schoolgirl, Connecticut is no less a paradise than heaven itself.