The Conjuring 2 Movie Review
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The facts: from 1977 to 1979, 11-year old Janet Hodgson was the center of initially unexplained paranormal activity. Police, media and paranormal experts (like the Warrens though to a much smaller degree than portrayed here) were called in to evaluate. After many months, and despite thin witness accounts, it has largely been determined to be a hoax.
If you don’t know anything about the Enfield Poltergeist, or any of the Warrens’ Investigations into the paranormal, you will likely love this movie.
I do know the events, what transpired, how it was handled, and the Warrens’ role in it, so I’m on the fence. However I’ll review the movie as the movie. This is after all a Hollywood franchise, not a documentary, and while “based on a true story”, the events in this movie are largely spun from whole cloth. All on its own, The Conjuring 2 is a fun little movie.
We begin with Lorraine (Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel) and Ed Warren wrapping up things at the Amityville House (yes, that one) when she has a vision of something demonic and terrifying and life-altering for someone close to her. She wants to swear off all work and consultation, believing her visions are a warning to back off. Instead, she and her husband, Ed (Patrick Wilson, Insidious (2010)), travel to England to consult on behalf of the Catholic Church to see if the Enfield case has any merit.
When we think of haunted houses, we imagine large plantation houses with wispy willows and septic swamps. We almost never think of low-income housing in a modern suburb, yet director James Wan manages to turn the mundane and maudlin into mysterious and menacing. The Hodgsons have what they believe to be a haunting in their council house. Young Janet (Madison Wolfe, Trumbo (2015)), still despondent over her father running off experiences episodes of sleepwalking and hears knocking on the walls; her younger brother (newcomer, Benjamin Haigh) is terrorized by the animated creature from his musical zoetrope; her mother (Frances O’Connor, Mr. Selfridge (2013)) is absolutely at her wits end.
The arrival of the Warrens, despite their skill in coaxing out the troubled spirits and little girls, and being handy around the house, doesn’t necessarily solve the on-going question of whether or not Janet is making it all up, or if supernatural hijinks are afoot. There are a lot of unexplained and terrifying activities, and even though the professionals seem to teeter towards belief, the tangible proof is always just out of reach.
There are some genuinely creepy and downright scary moments in this movie. The imagery of the blasphemous nun (Bonnie Aarons, Drew Daywalt’s The Closet (2011)) and The Crooked Man (Javier Botet, Mama (2013)) is nightmare inducing. The tension doesn’t always go for the easy payoff. For your casual movie goer – it’s very, very exciting. For jaded horror watchers like me, that’s incredible.
I’ll give The Conjuring 2 this – it’s thorough, but in combining truth with flat out imagination in an effort to bring humanity to the horror, it stumbles in a few places. Why would a demon first experienced in Amityville NY, antagonize a medium in Connecticut, and then haunt a little girl in Enfield, England? Why call attention to yourself on one continent when you plan on getting up to dickens another? Why must demons be such attention whores? I don’t even want to get into the fact that poltergeists and demonic possessions are kinda not the same thing.
Like at all.
Anyway, the whole nun-apparition subplot feels forced, as if the haunting wouldn’t be enough to carry the whole movie (because no one ever saw Poltergeist (1982)) and unfortunately the movie feels long at 133 minutes. However, without it (and the troubling bells it rings), The Conjuring 2 would lack the frenetic Hollywood ending the original incident didn’t have and no one is hot to talk about – the hospitalization, the immediate drop off in paranormal activity, the admitted fabrications. You would also have to contend with the fact that the Warrens had very little to do with this particular haunting and that makes getting this particular franchise off the ground. This is as much a Warren Case file as a recipe for cheese and crackers. Interesting, but it doesn’t take much involvement to make it work.
I get it. Pad and shoehorn and if everyone has their fingers crossed and is very lucky, the film will manage to rise above the standard and dull slash and scream affairs the genre is drowning in.
With The Conjuring 2, they got lucky.
It’s “based on a true story”, and actual facts aside, it is fun to watch, but in combining truth with whole-cloth fiction, it stumbles in a few places. This is rated-R for terror and horror violence, and I will admit to giving in to some chill-inducing jumps.
So – the less you know about the actual Enfield haunting, the more you will definitely enjoy this movie. I’m even considering taking in a second show, because when you drop your expectations and your biases (I’m not a Warrens fan), it really is a good movie that manages to keep you more than a little on edge.