James Wan has gone from strength to strength in the horror industry, bigger budgets, bigger names and bigger box office takings. His star on the horror walk of fame has been cemented. Perhaps this is why he seems to have taken a vacation from original ideas and new pathways in genre cinema (is it just me still mourning over Saw?). Style and technical flair don’t necessarily amount to scares, as his next yawn-fest of a sequel, The Conjuring 2, seems to prove.
After initially viewing this, I debated just copying and pasting my comments from Insidious Part 3 and switching some words around, as Blumhouse once again strike all the standard notes of a horror symphony with their usual paranormal house affair, this time based in Enfield, North London.
Set in a dreary late 70’s council estate (we know it is England because it always rains, thank you to the 5 or so pavement shots that re-assured me that I suddenly had not changed location), and based on the real-life case of the Enfield Haunting, The Conjuring 2’s young-person-to-haunt of choice is Janet, a seemingly innocent girl with a pale complexion and eyes so wide it’s pretty much her own fault she gets possessed. Surrounding her is her struggling family, her mum Peggy (Frances O’Connor), who is struggling to pay the bills and maintain the house, a younger brother struggling with a stutter and another brother and another sister that don’t particularly do anything. Some of the kids are bullied at school and mum’s having a nightmare trying to afford biscuits to keep her youngest son happen, and then this bloody malicious spirit just pops along to wreak havoc to top it all off.
Just as it seems that the Hodgson’s whole lives are going to the dogs, in steps the rays of light that are Ed and Lorraine Warren, the world’s most famous paranormal investigators, fresh off the Amityville Horror case, where Lorraine has been having premonitions about her husband’s death that links to this Enfield home. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the central roles are luminous, their perfect partnership and deep caring relationship with one another an absolute stronghold in the Conjuring franchise. Tender, headstrong and indescribably badass at times, their connection rips through the very fabric of the film and often takes it from drab scare factory to a heartening character study exploring the relationship between good and evil and the selflessness that often comes with fighting off bad forces, as the pair are conflicted between helping the family and Lorraine’s increasing fears for Ed’s well-being.
But they are not alone, they are assisted on the case by Maurice Grosse a member of the Society for Psychical Research and Dr. Anita Gregory, a skeptic out to prove that the Hodgson’s have created a hoax to get some money. With all these bodies in one house and the neighbours and police to vouch for the creepy goings on, its not long before the spirit goes full throttle, using Janet as a mouthpiece and revealing himself as Bill Wilkins, a previous tenant of the home who died in a chair in the corner of the room. His anger propels Janet out of bed, slams furniture against walls and rotates gifted crucifixes on the wall, you know, the usual demonic activity one expects from a Blumhouse Production.
Lorraine is not convinced though, plagued by visions of a pale-faced teeth-baring nun she experiences hell like no other as she tries to piece together the presence of these figures in the Hodgson’s home. One particularly brilliant and skin-crawling scene sees Lorraine in her own home, freaked out by a painting Ed has done of the very nun in her visions (that she has not told him about). The picture appears to move and transform, the lights turn on and off and it’s not sure what’s real or on canvas. Despite the nun not being a particularly threatening presence (there’s news of an Annabelle-esque spin-off, please God, no) this scene evokes the tremors and nervousness I’ve recently felt from the Lights Out trailer and is a huge contrast between the comical, creepypasta-come-to-life looking CGI 3rd presence in the Enfield house of the ‘Crooked Man’, based on a rickety old children’s toy not unlike, you guessed it, the one’s seen in so many other Blumhouse Productions.
Despite criticisms of predictable objects and blatantly obvious use of darkness (oh yes, that tent in the middle of the landing is absolutely NOT going to host a demon at some point), James Wan’s aesthetic flair and tonal qualities of his films is what sets them apart from other horror outings. Secure in his 70s references and completely gorgeous you’ll be amazed by the accuracy in costume and set when the credits roll to reveal actual photographs from the Enfield case. The rich sets also hold clues to the finale of the film, minute details that most would look over which is a delightful treat for any cinephile. Wan’s technical prowess has also been upped for the Conjuring sequel, crane shots heighten a looming sense of dread and follow Peggy around the house, a niggling breath down the back of your neck that tells you terror is not far behind.
A knack for good cinematography and a nice flared trouser don’t stop the film from dipping into an out-of-place sense of pure cheese though, with two odd musical numbers that feel completely unnecessary, the most prominent being where Patrick Wilson sings Elvis Presley’s take on Fools Rush In, where you just expect the camera to pan round to look out of a nice bay window, draped with velvet curtains to a snowy exterior and blazing fire like an old TCM movie.
Whilst the Conjuring 2 might offer a sense of nostalgia for older viewers and throwback to old horror styles, the frequent 70s references don’t stop this from feeling like every horror Blumhouse has put out since their fruition (apart from Creep, Creep is fantastic. Unfriended is pretty good too). For a non-regular horror viewer this slick sequel might pack a punch, but for seasoned horror watching veterans, its tired formula is less likely to deliver the screams than its predecessor.
By Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screenqueens. She is 20 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller a whole lot. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, The Beach and Lords of Dogtown. But DON’T talk to her about Paranormal Activity. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff.