There is no disputing James Wan is one of the top architects of the mainstream horror movement. He has written, directed, produced, or done a combination of all three on many of the big name horror films that have come out since 2000. Being the creator of the SAW franchise is enough to cement his legacy, but one look at his IMDB page shows he has many irons in the fire. He has a formula, and he works it well.
I really like THE CONJURING. It’s a throwback film reminiscent of films like THE ENTITY and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR that scared the hell out of me as a kid. It also makes an emotional impact in the haunting of the family and the relationship between Ed and Lorraine Warren. It is creepy and well-executed. We will just forget the Annabelle spin-off for the moment.
CONJURING 2 doesn’t stray too far from the first one. Once again the story comes from the true files of the Warrens. This time, it is the Enfield Haunting that took place in London in the late 70’s. The Enfield Haunting was one of the most documented cases of paranormal activity involving the Hodgson family. As in the first film, actual footage and voice recordings from the investigation are shown. A short documentary about the real family is included as an extra on the Blu-ray and is quite interesting.
Written by the Hayes brothers and Wan, CONJURING 2 brings back Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine. It begins with the Warrens’ investigation of the Amityville haunting. Lorraine sees the DeFeo family murders played out from the killer’s perspective and is then lured into the infamous basement to meet a horrible Nun demon. The vision is linked to the one she had at the beginning of the first movie. She tells Ed they need to stop investigating.
Meanwhile, the Hodgson family is dealing with supernatural disturbances in their London flat. Wan does a good job recreating the political and cultural upheaval of late 70’s London. He also kept the look of the Hodgson house and the girls’ bedroom, including the posters on the walls. Eleven year old Janet (Madison Wolfe) begins having eerie encounters with the ghost of an old man who wrecks havoc on the family. The unique thing about this case is other people experience the haunting as well, including the local police, and the case becomes a media sensation.
The Church contacts the Warrens to investigate. Lorraine is very hesitant, especially after her second encounter with the Nun demon who shows her a premonition of Ed’s death. In the end, of course, they do go to try to help the family. They join Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) and Anita Gregory (Franka Potente), two paranormal investigators already involved in the case. There is a lot of debate about whether the family is being truthful, or orchestrating a hoax to get better housing.
The Warrens do encounter the old man ghost, Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), who died in the house years before. They also find more malevolent spirits, including The Crooked Man and The Nun. The Nun is getting her own spin-off movie, but personally, I would like to see one about The Crooked Man and his creepy spinning toy.
Many of the same elements from the first film are at play in the second. Wan shows his affinity for creepy basements and mirrors that show horrible things right behind you. Sudden loud bangs and obnoxiously loud toys that suddenly go off are all present. Ed bonding with the family while he repairs their decrepit house? Check. Creaking doors and single points of low light surrounded by ominous darkness? Check and check. There is nothing new here. Wan is still king of the jump scare. And therein lies the problem for me. It’s not that THE CONJURING 2 is a bad film; it just feels like THE CONJURING relocated.
The best part of the film, for me, was Frances O’ Connor’s performance as the mother, Peggy Hodgson. She is great as a single mother trying to raise four kids in the midst of crushing poverty and horrifying occurrences threatening her family. She stays strong and dignified, despite knowing she is in way over her head. O’Connor’s performance felt the most genuine. Her conversation with Patrick about her absent husband, “He took all the music..No literally, he took all the records in the house. Including the Elvis ones,” is perfect.
James Wan makes horror films that are fun to watch. Ok, maybe not Annabelle. Or probably its sequel. But when he has a good story, he does really well. I hope if he continues with THE CONJURING, which is likely, he goes back to the emotional element that made the first one so good. And if there has to be a spin-off, go with the Crooked Man.