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The Conjuring 2

aka The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case

D: James Wan / 134m

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Franka Potente, Bob Adrian

In the world of paranormal investigations, the plight of the Hodgson family, who resided in Enfield during the Seventies, is one of the most well-documented cases on record. Between 1977 and 1979, the family – single mother Peggy and her four children, Margaret (13), Janet (11), Johnny (10), and Billy (7) – were reported to have been plagued by poltergeist activity. Among the various investigators who looked into the case were Ed and Lorraine Warren. Their findings were that the activity was the result of “inhuman spirit phenomena”, and this despite a general consensus that the alleged poltergeist activity was a hoax perpetrated – largely – by Janet.

The Warrens were just two of many investigators who visited the Hodgson’s home during the late Seventies, but for the purposes of The Conjuring 2, their involvement has been beefed up to the point where lead investigator Maurice Grosse becomes a secondary character, left behind in the wake of the Warrens’ more experienced involvement with the paranormal. And in beefing up the Warrens’ involvement, the movie also connects the events that occurred in Enfield with events related to the Warrens’ investigation into the Amityville haunting.

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And this is where the movie starts, in Amityville, and where it introduces us to the movie’s principal villain, a demon nun intent on claiming Ed Warren’s life (Lorraine witnesses his death while in a trance). This early sequence serves as the set up for the ensuing events based in Enfield, and widens the scope of the Warrens’ investigation once they’ve been persuaded to look into the case. In the hands of director James Wan and his co-screenwriters, Carey and Chad Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson, this gives viewers a mix of “true” occurrences and fictional explanations that works well for the most part, but which relies heavily on the style of horror movie making established in recent years through the likes of the Insidious series, the first Conjuring movie, and its spin-off Annabelle (2014).

It’s a style of horror movie making that is fast becoming too predictable for its own good, but as one of its creators, Wan is better placed than most to squeeze more life out of it. The Conjuring 2, with its demon nun and shaky dramatics, is a better sequel than might have been expected, but it still contains too many moments that shatter the ilusion of heightened reality that the script carefully tries to maintain throughout. With its flooded basement, final act heroics, and expository trance sequences, the movie identifies more with its own place in the modern horror landscape than it does with the requirements of telling a good story. And one or two standout sequences aside, the movie is too heavily reliant on the template established through previous movies to be entirely effective.

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But that’s not to say that Wan doesn’t give it a good try. The opening sequence set in the house at Amityville is beautifully set up, with a reverse dolly shot that brings the viewer into the house via one of the two windows that are so iconic to the look of the property from the outside. A seance sees Lorraine (Farmiga) wandering the house and imitating/reliving the murders committed by a former occupant. It’s an effective collection of scenes but as they go on there’s a feeling that this is a sideshow, a gory hors d’oeuvre before the main course set in Enfield. The Warrens’ investigation into the events at Amityville made their names (and could have made for a movie all by itself), but we’re quickly moved on, and are introduced to the Hodgsons. Peggy (O’Connor) is an harrassed single mother struggling to keep her family afloat amid issues involving an absent husband, mounting money problems, and a house that looks in places like it’s suffered from fire damage (the set design is curious to say the least).

When Janet (Wolfe) begins to experience strange phenomena, Peggy is initially dismissive until she herself witnesses the same sort of thing. The police are called but can offer little help except as witnesses to the self-same phenomena, though this does lead to the Press taking up the story. Paranormal researcher Maurice Grosse (McBurney) begins his investigation while back in the States, Lorraine convinces Ed (Wilson) they should take a break from their own investigations (though in the end it doesn’t take much to convince Lorraine to change her mind). Once they arrive, Ed and Lorraine waste no time in contacting the spirit of the house’s previous owner, a man named Bill Wilkins (Adrian). Bill died in the house and it’s he who is responsible for all the paranormal goings-on. Unable to convince him to move on, Bill’s malicious behaviour begins to put everyone at risk. But when a video recording shows Janet causing damage that everyone had attributed to Bill Wilkins, Ed and Lorraine have no option but to leave as it throws too much doubt on the veracity of what’s happening. Until Ed has a breakthrough in relation to two recordings made of Bill talking through Janet…

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While The Conjuring 2 is handsomely mounted with a touch of Grand Guignol here and there to add to the visual gloominess, and Wan orchestrates proceedings with a confidence and deftness of touch that benefits and enhances the mood of the movie to good effect, it’s still let down by the vagaries inherent in the script and its decision to include as many of the recorded events as possible (though the script seems to be saying that these events aren’t dramatic enough on their own and they’re bolstered by the inclusion of extra phenomena such as the Crooked Man and dozens of crosses that turn upside down). Narrative leaps make the movie feel disjointed at times, particularly in the stretch before Ed and Lorraine arrive in Enfield, and there’s little investment in the characters or their development, with only Grosse given a poignant (and true) reason to believe in the paranormal.

The cast perform efficiently enough, with Wilson and Farmiga settled into their roles, and there’s excellent support from Wolfe and O’Connor (though her accent, like Esposito’s, does wander from scene to scene). Don Burgess’s cinematography is a bonus, providing the movie with a sense of compressed space that feels appropriately claustrophobic when characters are shot in close-up, and there’s a subtle, “insidious” score by Joseph Bishara that adds to the effectiveness of the supernatural events. But if there’s one grumble to be made above all others, it’s why Valak, the demon nun in question, had to look like Marilyn Manson.

Rating: 7/10 – a solid if predictable horror sequel, The Conjuring 2 lacks cohesion in its narrative, but makes up for it with some impressive visuals and its recreation of the era; unnerving for the most part and featuring a couple of effective jump scares, viewers should take its assertion of being from “the true case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren” with a huge pinch of salt, and view accordingly.