Make no mistake: The Conjuring 2 is a collection of supernatural horror clichés and can hardly be considered a groundbreaking entry in the genre by any means. However, although undoubtedly an example of what Mark Kermode calls “cattle prod cinema” in its liberal deployment of jump scares and the like, director James Wan’s sequel contains a number of major plus points making it an unexpected equal to its predecessor.
For a start, Wan’s deployment of the afore-mentioned clichés are exceptionally well crafted. The screen oozes with darkness and dread, and the overall effect is that of a satisfyingly scary haunted house theme park ride. It might lack the lingering, unable-to-sleep-afterwards menace of a truly great horror film (The Babadook and The Witch being two recent examples), but it is nonetheless efficient and atmospheric. And yes, it is impossible not to experience suspense, scares and indeed jumps whilst watching it – even if the seasoned horror cineaste is unlikely to feel particularly unsettled post viewing.
General audiences however could well find the hairs on the back of their neck standing up as this supposedly fact-based tale of a haunting in Enfield unfolds. Dubbed “Britain’s Amityville”, this 1977 case was another looked into by real life Christian paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively). I have no doubt that the filmmakers have massively exaggerated, added to and tweaked the details of the case, but genre expectations must be satisfied. Never let the facts get in the way of a good movie.
The relationship between Ed and Lorraine provides another major plus point that raises the film above average. A rare Hollywood depiction of a happily married couple who genuinely love and care for each other completely, and indeed sacrificially, their understated kindness, good humour and compassionate treatment of the family at the centre of the horrific events provides the beating heart of the story. In one touching scene, Ed leads the children in an Elvis singalong to raise their spirits, and in another he encourages them to be brave by thinking of the evil spirit no differently to a school bully.
Just as The Conjuring opened at the climax of a previous case, this sequel opens with the climax of the Amityville case. It almost feels likes a horror movie version of a James Bond or Indiana Jones opening, although in this case an element of the Amityville case does tie in with subsequent events in Enfield. From there the spooky set pieces follow thick and fast. Highlights include a ghost who keeps flicking the television channel from children’s programmes to a speech by Margaret Thatcher (hardly a good sign), a scary levitation/teleportation sequence, and a creepy moment concerning a dog and a demonic manifestation of a magic lantern character. Oh, and there is one genuinely terrifying bit involving a painting of a demonic nun.
Performances are all good, not just from the afore-mentioned Wilson and Farmiga but also those involved in the Enfield case, including Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney and Franka Potente. Madison Wolfe in particular channels her inner Linda Blair as the was-she-possessed-or-faking-it young girl at the centre of the Enfield case, Janet Hodgson.
Whilst leaving the cinema, I heard a number of comments from other viewers, including “I really must read the Bible sometime”, “I’d like to talk to my Christian friend about this”, and “I wonder if God really does fight demons?”. I heard similar comments after The Conjuring too. My regular readers know as a Christian myself I am an ardent apologist for the horror genre, recognising it’s great potential to get people thinking about the supernatural. Horror films can be great conversation starters, and as such I really wish more of my fellow believers would recognise their value rather than decrying them as unwholesome or “not theologically accurate” – a particular bugbear of mine as a story is not a sermon. Yes supernatural horror films by necessity exaggerate the power of evil for dramatic effect, but they are an excellent inroad for a discussion of faith, especially a film like this which has an unapologetically Christian worldview.
All things considered, despite the undoubted and shameless deployment of every cliché in the book, The Conjuring 2 is a very solid, above average piece of supernatural spine-tingling that will no doubt provide plenty of thrills to those with the temperament for it.