Husband and wife partners fight 1970s demons ‘across the pond’
The Conjuring 2
Starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga
Directed by James Wan
Beating the much-ballyhooed new Ghostbusters to the screen by several weeks, director James Wan shakes things up with a spook-fest of another kind—the second serving of his Conjuring series, based on the case files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who claimed to have investigated more than 10,000 incidents since the 1950s.
This time, fresh off the 1970s investigation that became New York’s “Amityville Horror,” the Warrens are summoned across the pond to a working-class London borough, where a single mother and her four young children are being tormented by what seem to be malicious spirits.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga once again portray the Warrens, a couple whose individual childhood brushes with the supernatural eventually led them to each other, into a paranormal partnership and marriage. The movie’s soft little subplot about their strong bond, scored to the recurring Elvis hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (which Wilson even gets to sing as a serenade, with a guitar!), is a dollop of pure sweetness in the carnival of creepiness.
Young Madison Wolfe, 11, who plays the Janet, the “possessed” youngest daughter of the British family, may look like a greenhorn, but you’ve likely already seen her if you watch TV, on Zoo, Scream, The Astronaut Wives Club or True Detective, or in the movies The Campaign, Trumbo or Joy. She’s terrific as the bedevilments in her home send her flying into the air, crashing into walls, teleporting from room to room and taking control of her voice, personality and body.
Wan, who also directed the original Saw and Insidious, certainly knows his way around a haunted house. He never overdoes the cheap thrills or gotchas, and he gets genuine jolts out of some truly nightmarish images—particularly a demonic nun and the “crooked man” from the old nursery rhyme. But he also has fun with bone-chilling scares he builds around mundane, everyday objects, like a blinking, bleeping toy fire truck, a bedroom poster of smiling actor-singer David Soul and a TV remote that won’t stay where it’s put.
The movie will probably feel a bit familiar, at times, to anyone who’s seen The Exorcist, it could stand to be trimmed by at least 20-25 minutes, and someone should have told the music department that just because a movie is set in England, you don’t have to use songs by the Bee Gees, the Hollies and the Clash if they don’t really fit.
As the Warrens wrestle with demons, they also wrangle with questions of belief and doubt, skepticism and proof. “Your visions are a gift from God,” Ed reassures Lorriane, who worries that her trance-like visits to the “dark side” have shown her too much, especially about what might become her own future. The movie frames the Enfield hauntings, which actually took place over a two-year period, in a Christmas setting, with prominent decorations on display and weirdly dissonant versions of familiar carols signaling that something unholy is afoot. In one scene, a freaked-out Lorraine stabs and shreds pages of her Bible with an ink pen.
If you’re easily spooked, The Conjuring 2 may not be the most relaxing way to spend your popcorn dollar. On the other hand, if you like getting the good, old-fashioned hell scared out of you, then step right up for a retro terror trip to re-live another harrowing, real-life event from the annals of America’s original ghost busters.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine