The Conjuring holds the accolade for being the second highest grossing horror movie of all time; The Exorcist holds the top spot. Having raked in $319 million worldwide it was inevitable that a sequel would be created, but as everybody knows – sequels, especially those in the horror genre, are notoriously difficult to pull off. James Wan however, has managed to skirt the usual pitfalls and has created a second film that more than holds its own against its predecessor.
Following the format of The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 once more delves into the real life case files of the very real paranormal investigating couple of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Over the years the pair have investigated all manner of spooky situations including both Amityville and the Enfield haunting, the latter forming our main source material. The Enfield haunting is an historic landmark in the world of supernatural sightings as it holds the acclaim of being the most documented instance of an otherworldly event. It’s an event that has captivated the British public for years and is seen by many as our answer to Amityville; it was spoofed superbly by the BBC in the 1990’s show Ghostwatch and was most recently recounted for Sky Living in The Enfield Haunting starring Timothy Spall. Interestingly, that version made no mention of the Warrens and instead focused on Spall’s Mr Grosse.
In the film, action switches from sleepy, sunny, out in the sticks America country estate that formed the setting for The Conjuring, to the loud, rainy, dilapidated British council house on Green Street. Living in the dreary house are single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children. The house is in a sorry state; it has one heck of a flooding problem, and Mr Hodgson ran off with the woman around the corner. Peggy is doing all she can to keep her family together, but is clearly struggling, so it’s the perfect time for her pre-teenage daughter Janet to become the target for creepy old (and more importantly – deceased) resident Bill. The family then become tormented at all times of day which eventually garners media interest, and after investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) listen to a record of one of the many encounters, they hot foot it across the Atlantic to try and get to the bottom of what is occurring.
The frights start immediately as we join the Warrens as they arrive at Amityville and don’t really stop for the first half of the film. The result is an intensive hour of terror that will have audiences squirming in their seats. Interestingly, it isn’t until around this point that the Warrens actually meet with the Hodgson’s, meaning that we spend most of the films runtime watching this family be tormented with no glimmer of hope. This way of storytelling works much better than the first film, which in itself was great, as the peaks and troughs of scares and normal family life dragged the narrative down. The fact that the Warrens turned up pretty early on also in some ways lessened the perils. By jumping into the action and having the family unable to settle which, let’s face it, is how you’d react if there was a ghost in your house, the film chugs along nicely, keeping the adrenaline pulsing through the veins. This method also stops the daunting 134 minute run time from feeling bloated.
The constant scares don’t overshadow the characters as all the main players get plenty of time to shine and are offered a chance to grow within their environment. The star of the film is young Janet (Madison Wolfe) who gives a stellar turn as the traumatised pre-teen. Again, as with both the Lambert and Perron family, Wan and co have created a family that you care about. It’s an important factor for a horror film, one that is sadly overlooked by many films in the genre. There’s also a surprising amount of humour peppered throughout, even during one of the more drawn out scares Wan clearly enjoys playing with his audience.
The camerawork is stylish and well thought-out, creating atmosphere and enabling the scares to really hammer home. The greatest sequence has to be the first interaction between Ed Warren and Bill. So as to enable contact Ed agrees to sit with his back to Janet, the conduit through which Bill speaks. Keep your eyes on the blurry background and you’ll see some very inventive camera trickery in action. The colour palette is, as expected, dark and dreary, again ramping up the sinister atmosphere. In fact everything has been meticulously planned out to allow for the optimum amount of scares, right down to the placement of the posters in the girls room.
The only downfall of the film is with the effects work on ‘the crooked man’ – it seems rather shoddy and cheap. It’s potentially an intentional thing, and an homage to the likes of Poltergiest, given how thoroughly everything else has been worked out it seems odd that this would have been overlooked, but it doesn’t quite work. The visuals jar with the tone of everything else and temporarily bring you out of the film. Fortunately though this character only appears fleetingly for a few moments and doesn’t detract too heavily from Wan’s stellar work. On the positive side, the main demonic presence will haunt your dreams as it’s downright chilling.
The Conjuring 2 maintains a consistent, foreboding sense of dread throughout preventing the viewer from settling. With The Conjuring 2 James Wan has crafted a sequel that is easily equal to, if not better than, the original. A film best viewed with others, from behind your hands.
The Conjuring 2 is availble to own now.
This review first appeared on THN.