I’ve never been a big fan of James Wan’s flicks. I didn’t get the hype around Saw (and still bemoan the arrival of the seafoam green aesthetic it brought to virtually every horror film released after it), found Dead Silence absolutely laughable, and wasn’t even remotely moved by Insidious. As a matter of fact, the only flick I liked of his up until relatively recently was the much-maligned Death Wish throwback, Death Sentence, which is, apparently, his least popular film. I was ready to give up on trying to “get” the director when The Conjuring came along, and it was here where I finally saw the genius so many have tried to convince me was there all along. The film scared the bejesus out of me with its expert mix of jump scares and tense atmosphere, but it also impressed me as it showcased a much more mature and finessed approach in Wan’s direction. It was a given that the film’s commercial success would lead to further adventures taken from the “casefiles” of Ed and Lorrain Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), and, with The Conjuring 2, Wan takes us across the Atlantic to North London for a sensational (and most-times sensationalistic) take on the 1977 Enfield poltergeist case.
Spoilers ahead! You have been warned!
The Conjuring 2 opens with a glimpse of the Warren’s investigation into the Amityville haunting, as Ed and Lorraine host a séance in hopes of getting in touch with the evil presence that prompted the Lutz family to vacate the premises months earlier. While “seeing” through the eyes of past-inhabitant Ronald DeFeo Jr. as he murders his family while they sleep, Lorraine finds herself drawn to the basement of the home where she meets a demonic entity that fills her with more dread than anything she’s ever encountered. Overwhelmed by her experience, Lorraine tells Ed she doesn’t want to take on any new cases for a while and he agrees.
Meanwhile, in the London suburb of Enfield, single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children manage to barely eek out an existence after her husband has taken up with a neighbor and abandoned them. The breakup has been especially hard on Peggy’s second youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), who, after playing with a handmade Ouija board in hopes of contacting a spirit who can tell her whether or not her father will come back home, inadvertently summons the spirit of an elderly man who once lived in the home. At first it’s all knocking doors and creaking floorboards, but it’s not long before the specter known as “Bill Wilkins” begins to use Janet as a conduit into the physical world, exacting a physical toll on the girl and her family.
The Hodgson case becomes something of a local phenomenon as others outside the family bear witness to Bill’s increasingly violent visitations, and, ultimately, an envoy from the Vatican pays a visit to the Warrens, hoping to enlist their aide in determining whether or not the Enfield poltergeist is a hoax. Lorraine is reluctant, but Ed is determined to help this family, and the two set off to London to face their most potent foe yet.
Let me first say that The Conjuring 2 scared the absolute shit out of me. I actually found it more frightening and nerve-wracking than the first film, and found myself thoroughly invested in the plight of the Hodgson family, especially Janet who, as portrayed by the stellar young Wolfe, serves as the film’s most tragic and sympathetic character. Wan absolutely kills it, here, with a camera that never sits still for a moment, gliding up and down walls, through windows, and along floorboards, always keeping us ill-at-ease and expecting something to jump out of every shadow at every turn. It’s truly pulse-pounding stuff that is at its best when it focuses on the Hodgson family.
However, whenever the focus is placed back on the Warrens it’s like watching an entirely different film. I get that they’re meant to be portrayed as the ultimate do-gooders, here – people with unflinching faith and a love for one another that’s strong enough to take down any evil, but Wilson and Farmiga’s portrayal makes them seem like something out of a 60s sitcom. It’s made all the worse by the laughable (and, in a few situations, entirely inappropriate) dialogue the actors are forced to spout, including a hilarious Scooby Doo-like revelation in the final act (“If I’m right about this…” says Wilson as he acts on a completely implausible hunch) and as well as a scene in which Wilson serenades the Hodgson’s with a rendition of “Fools Rush In” that’s so saccharine it made my teeth ache. Like I said, I get that they’re the heroes and that they’re super religious and just goshdarned good folk and all, but the contrast here between their lovey-dovey playful interactions and the incredibly dark, intense, and terrifying scenes involving the Hodgsons is just…it’s just weird man. It’s just fucking weird. And it doesn’t work at all!
I also found that the whole evil nun/demon entity thing really detracted from what is an otherwise fairly grounded and spectacular ghost story. I know Wan wanted to raise the stakes for the Warrens, but by explaining away the entire Enfield haunting as some complex ruse by an angry demon to lure Ed and Lorraine to England, well, that’s not just silly, but a bit of an insult to anyone and everyone who was directly impacted by those events (whether true or not).
All that aside, The Conjuring 2 is still great fun. It’s like a nonstop roller coaster ride of thrills and chills that is only interrupted by the occasional meandering stretch that suddenly brings you to the next thrilling bit.
The Blu-ray from Warner Brothers offers up a very clean and crisp 2.40:1 transfer of the film that’s packed with gorgeous detail and really highlights some of Wan’s nifty camera work (the scene in which the camera slides along the street and then up and through the Hodgson home in the beginning of the film is pretty dazzling stuff). The accompanying Dolby True HD soundtrack is the real star here, however, as the film is driven by creepy sound effects and stings, and this robust track serves the film quite capably.
Bonus features include a collection of five short featurettes that cover everything from the making of the film (Crafting The Conjuring 2 – HD) to a short segment in which the real Hodgson sisters revisit their old stomping grounds (The Enfield Poltergeist: Living the Horror – HD). Also included are a collection of deleted scenes (HD), and trailers (HD).
If you enjoyed The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 definitely ups the ante in terms of scares, and director, James Wan, showcases some of his most impressive work in terms of world-building and manufacturing scares. Sadly, the peculiar saccharine shenanigans of the Warrens feels out of place when compared to the darkness around them, and their presence actually detracts from what is, otherwise, a really fantastic and frightening ghost story.