I Like to Hear Them Scream:
The Conjuring 2
One of the best things about The Conjuring 2 is that it is clear from the first scenes that director James Wan – continuing his successful run in the horror field – loves his subject matter; loves his characters; loves their environment; and intends to use every weapon in his impressive armoury to ensure that his audience has a really good time.
And they do.
In this cynical age, where sequels are often only there to rehash the events of the original and gouge a few extra shekels out of the gullible, that’ s a great thing to be able to say.
And with that said, I’m going to get the real downside out of the way first — the idea of keeping harping on these two films as being based on true stories ‘pulled from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren’. Jeez.
Conjuring the Loot
Well, some call them psychic investigators and some call them snake oil salespeople. My gut instinct is with the latter –- which I’m probably not supposed to say since Lorraine is still alive and is in fact billed as ‘advisor’ on this movie, dealing with the Enfield Haunting case in North London of the late 1970s.
Which must have amused the hell out of Guy Playfair, who is with the Society for Psychical Research and who worked on the case for two years. He only recalls the Warrens showing up for one day (uninvited) and merely being interested in making some wonga out of it. It’s fair to say that he doesn’t give them too much credence.
The Conjuring (2013) closed with the Dynamic Duo – played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson – getting ready to tackle the infamous Amityville House; and the sequel gets that confrontation out of the way in the first ten minutes. Which is a good idea, because I think that most people at this point recognize that whole business as a hoax. And which, to be fair, is an allegation addressed in The Conjuring 2.
The film makers also confront – rather cleverly, in fact – the inconvenient point that the main character in the events of the sequel has admitted that she faked some of the incidents.
The major action of the sequel takes place six years later and since I could recall next to nothing about the Enfield Haunting – rather famous in its day – I was all set to us to just relax and hope for a decent ghost/horror movie.
And that is just what I got.
The interesting thing here is that Ed and Lorraine are shown as very likeable, very serious kind of agents/operatives of none other than the Catholic Church. And that church, when asked to intervene in the case where an eleven-year-old child seems to be the focus for extreme paranormal events, plays it the way that I would imagine they would in reality.
Concerned with their reputation (which in 1977 was still OK, heh) they put on a political game. They are not going to stick their heads above the parapet – and certainly not with this much tabloid action going on – without solid proof. And that is what the Warrens are out to get, in conjunction with Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney), a sympathetic British investigator on the case.
The demonically under-siege family themselves are soundly portrayed with a merciful absence of child actors of the irritating kind. And a special mention must go to young Madison Wolfe, who plays Janet Hodgson, the girl at the centre of the haunting. She is by turns sweet and vulnerable and, when possessed, genuinely creepy and scary. After True Detective and Trumbo, she is clearly a kid to watch out for.
And Francis O’Connor as the mother, Peggy… This was weird for me indeed; because if you had told me that she was being played by Barbara Hershey I would have almost believed it, so strong is the resemblance – and that lady of course brings back memories of the Sidney J. Furie horror from 1982, The Entity.
The fad for horror movies always ‘winking’ at the audience to let them know that they’re aware of how ridiculous everything is, seems to be over; and it’s good to have a screenplay from Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes and David Leslie Johnson that plays things dead straight. Unfortunately for the character of skeptic Anita Gregory (Franka Potente) this means that she is badly underwritten and the actress quite wasted. This movie is aimed at believers only.
Egg on My Face Time
The first hour in particular is a haunted house ride that scarcely stops for breath, intriguingly using mainly what seemed to me to be practical effects. And James Wan proves himself a pure horror show craftsman here: when one of the kids rolls that toy engine into the dark makeshift tent, we know what is going to happen – but when it does happen it is done so well. And the pounding on the door – stalwart of a hundred films – really is reminiscent of Robert Wise’s classic 1963 The Haunting.
Some of the best scenes here are simplicity itself: Janet under the covers with a flashlight; the Q&A session with the elderly Bill entity (‘my house!’) that keeps the camera on Ed whilst everything else is out of focus.
So when the Crooked Man entity came to scary but apparently CGI life I felt a bit disappointed. In fact, I was doing my usual CGI moan just before writing this when a friend pointed out that it’s not CGI or animation at all, but in fact is a guy called Javier Botet who is able to do seriously weird things with his body.
And somehow, now that I know this, I find that bloody creepier than anything in the movie.
The other egg-on-the-face is because I spent a lot of Maurice Grosse’s scenes wondering why the hell he looked like this. I love the actor Simon McBurney – he’s got one of those great voices that I could listen to all day – but why was he wearing what appeared to be one of those joke shop glasses, false-nose-and-moustache combos. Every time he showed up I kept thinking of that skit from ‘Monty Python’ on the island where everyone is Alan Whicker. Well, it turns out from the (excellent!) end credits sequence that the guy really did look like that! Maybe it was a seventies thing. Apologies to the late Mr. Grosse. We can’t all be as handsome as me, I guess.
Oh, yeah; and since I’ve mentioned a couple of the entities I have to just give a shout out to one of the main ones – the Demonic Nun. A great visual here, although surely Marilyn Manson must be looking into image copyright. Well, she/it is getting her own movie. Maybe they can just save on SFX and cast Manson himself.
If you leave aside the pros-and-cons of how much of this actually took place, then you will have a really good night at the cinema. No, I didn’t find it particularly frightening, no more than I did the original. It depends way too much on jump scares for a start. It is a superior film to the first (and the English setting is used to great effect), even though I remain puzzled as to just why these films in particular seem to have grabbed a hold of the public imagination.
I don’t find them all that original or ground breaking but – what the hell, enough of the griping. I’ll come back to what I said at the start: it’s great to have enthusiastic and talented directors like James Wan who are willing to stay working in the genre.