After raking in the dollars and scaring up it’s very own combined universe, James Wan’s The Conjuring was destined to be granted a sequel as sure as a quick camera pan would suddenly reveal the appearance of a ghostly, screaming face. Wan – quite the franchise factory at this point thanks to eight saw films and four entries in the Insidious series – had just come back from steering the seventh Fast And Furious movie around the unpleasant death of Paul Walker and the experience with helming a massive tentpole blockbuster would prove to be invaluable when gaining the sort of clout in the Hollywood system virtually unheard of for a “horror director”.
So back we go to meet up with Ed and Lorraine Warren, real life paranormal troubleshooters, as they handle one of the most documented hauntings in history: the Enfield Poltergeist.
It’s 1976 and we rejoin the couple as they investigate the infamous Amityville haunting that famously plagued the Lutz family that also claimed the lives of the DeFeo clan teo years earlier in an apparent case of possesion-led murder. During her time there, supernaturally sensitive Lorraine has a vision of her husband’s death at the hands of a demonic creature in the form of a nun which startled her to the point that she wants to understandably retire from the public eye and limit their time spent with pissy dead people.
However, across the pond in jolly old England, single parent family the Hodgsons are starting to experience some strange shit as child Janet starts sleepwalking and having terrifying visions that start to freak out her sister, two brothers and struggling mother, Peggy and soon the weirdness gives way to full blown ghost stuff as things move on their own and furniture acts as if it has an earthquake setting. In a debatable bit of good news that would test anyone’s description of a silver lining, this restless spirit isn’t exactly shy and soon there is enough evidence to get paranormal investigators involved who eventually get in touch with the Warrens who have never abandoned a family yet and isn’t about to start now. As they probe into the facts of the haunting, it becomes clear that Bill, an angry, former resident who had popped his clogs in that very house, is the one responsible for the possession of Janet and the couple try to expel the miserable, old fart before he causes some serious damage, but Lorraine has the feeling something is wrong and that something else is going on that she just can’t quite put her finger on. Is Bill really strong enough to conjure up other spirits such as a suited and booted phantom known as the Crooked Man, or is there something else at play here – something far more demonic than a ghostly geezer and a foppish ghoul?
The first Conjuring was a slick, professional adaptation of supposed “true events” and this sequel is, unsurprisingly, more of the same, only a little bit more slick and professional and arguably better for it. If there’s an overarching issue with both films – beyond the fact that I personally tend to find haunted house movies a little samey – is that the very nature of these well documented stories mean that the Warrens can’t get anywhere near the place until we’ve gone down the extraordinarily worn path of a simple family fending off demonic possession until someone turns up and saves them. Yes, Wan has grown exponentially as a filmmaker, but aside from some neat historical tying in of the events of Amityville and some cool spectral antagonists, there really isn’t anything especially new here aside from the addition of some London accents. However, while offering absolutely nothing that turns the genre on it’s head quite the way Insidious did, The Conjuring 2 proves to be somewhat a superior sequel, oddly because of the time we don’t spend with our lead, dynamic duo.
As we have already been introduced to the Warrens and their cluttered armoury of spectrally inhabited objects in the first film, Wan doesn’t have to spend quite so much time fleshing them out, leaving it to the insanely dependable team of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to carry the load therefore freeing him to concentrate more on fleshing out the Hodgsons instead. It kind of works, but it admittedly leaves the main characters spinning their wheels a bit apart from the occasion vision and the only characters who manage to stand out in the Enfield segments are the two daughters.
With that being said, The Conjuring 2 may be the best looking haunting movie of the last decade with the faithfully recreated sets and sophisticated camera set ups giving 1970’s London a sheen that definately didn’t exist at the time (at one point the Warrens figure out an important plot point by sitting on the cleanest train carriage you’ve ever seen), despite this, Wan manages to keep his spooks admirably under wraps. Central spirit Old Bill is seen here and there but ultimately proves to be a red herring as he’s actually being manipulated by a wimple wearing demon named Valak who, despite all the publicity she got, is barely in the film at all. Maybe Wan knew she’d eventually get overexposed in her own spin-off, Annabelle style and wisely held back but personally, I would have liked to spend a little more time with Javier Botet’s nattily dressed Crooked Man – oh well, maybe he’ll also get an eventual movie of his own…
A highly polished affair, I nevertheless feel that compared to the more energetic and innovative movies in his filmography, Wan is sort of underachieving a little with the Conjuring movies and it happy to knock out well made, if familiar tropes instead of trying to further reinvent the wheel. It’s a picky complaint, because The Conjuring movies are VERY good at what they do (better than the Annabelle movies, for sure), it’s just that for all it’s screaming, flying furniture and glowy eyed spooky things, it’s just a slick new skin over the same old stuff.
Whatever the case, both Wan and The Conjuring Universe are raring to push on with Wan’s mysterious Malignant ready to go and the Warrens’ third venture in the bag with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Them Do It (What, Conjuring 3 seem too obvious, guys?), but hopefully both can expand on this sequel’s superior craftsmanship and be possessed with some good old fashioned originality…