“The Conjuring 2” (2016) Directed by James Wan. Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Madison Wolfe. Demonologist Ed Warren and his clairvoyant medium wife Lorraine travel to England to confront evil in multiple forms as they come to the aid of a beleaguered single mother and her four children tormented by a violent poltergeist, and something much worse, in their North London home.
Seven years after they exorcised the child-killing witch Bathsheba Sherman from the body of Carolyn Perron in Rhode Island, we pick up with the Warrens in the midst of a séance inside the infamous Amityville Horror House at 112 Ocean Avenue. Lorraine wants to uncover the truth behind the hauntings and pinpoint the demonic presence that may have driven Ronnie DeFeo to methodically slaughter his family. As usual, the Warrens get more than they bargained for as Lorraine relives the massacre in detail and then experiences a nightmarish encounter with a rather unpleasant spectral nun, who attempts to impart a cryptic message.
This is one unholy sister who makes quite the lasting impression!
Meanwhile, in the poverty-stricken London borough of Enfield, 11-year-old Janet Hodgson and her older sister Margaret and brother Johnny look out for their younger sibling Billy, who is bullied for his painful stutter. At home, Billy uses a Möbius strip toy that plays a rhyming song about a Crooked Man to help him improve his speech. The better he does, the more biscuits Janet feeds him.
The Hodgsons are warm and relatable as a family struggling through hard times in the late 1970s. I loved their accents, a dialect specific to London’s rougher regions, and the well-worn griminess of their home with its scarred chairs and constantly flooding basement.
One night Janet and Margaret mess around with a homemade spirit board. They ask it if their father, who recently left their mother Peggy for another woman, will ever return, and other heartbreaking questions. There’s no response in the moment, but later, startling knocking sounds begin emanating from the walls. Then Billy’s toys start moving on their own and chairs slide across the floor. Janet, home alone watching the telly, is suddenly berated and then bitten by the enraged ghost of an elderly man with a message just for her: “This is MY house!”
After Peggy witnesses inexplicable phenomena, she calls for the constables, who watch a chair slide across the family room floor and begin to turn into the kitchen. Spooked and convinced that this case is beyond their expertise, the constables contact a local priest seeking assistance from supernatural investigators. The situation eventually catches the attention of a reporter and makes the news, which brings inventor and paranormal researcher Maurice Grosse and skeptical parapsychologist Anita Gregory to the Hodgson’s front door.
In the Connecticut home of the Warrens, Ed does an accurate oil painting of the nun from Lorraine’s vision, though she never told him about the phantom figure. He’s been dreaming about her, turns out. While he’s out one afternoon and Lorraine is home with their daughter Judy, both mother and child see the nun again. And this time her message is crystal clear; one of the Warrens is going to die violently.
Eventually, Ed and Lorraine are brought in on the Enfield haunting case and fly to London to meet the Hodgson family. They comfort the terror-stricken Brits and also fix broken appliances around the house. Lorraine connects with the sleepless Janet, the target of most the paranormal events, while Ed tries to cheer the family up with a charming acoustic Elvis cover, complete with the Presley sneer.
Things turn back to the matter at hand when Janet begins speaking in the deep gravelly voice of the deceased old man wreaking havoc. As Maurice and the Warrens piece together his back story and connection to the house, the situation goes from bad to worse, forcing the family to move across the street to a neighbor’s. Anita thinks the whole affair is a hoax designed by Peggy to get better housing from the government, and her skepticism is bolstered by a recording of Janet bending spoons and throwing household objects around.
In one of the film’s more memorable sequences, they are swiftly attacked by a freaky jumbo-sized stop motion-like manifestation of Mr. Crooked from Billy’s toy. And guess who else just showed up? That damned Nun!
It’s a ghostly sampler platter in good old Enfield.
We’ve got grumpy old men poltergeists destroying the joint, we’ve got the creepily slender Tim Burton-ish Mr. Crooked (aka The Crooked Man) running around grinning his fanged grin and there’s a malevolent Nun, to boot. Oh and don’t forget Lorraine’s deadly vision of the future. *wink*
The final showdown between the investigators and the evil that is haunting Peggy’s decaying house is exceptionally well done, with the Nun’s Prophecy of Doom raising the stakes nicely. As with the original film, the cinematography and set design are fantastic. Right down to the posters on Janet and Margaret’s bedroom walls; the actual house has been replicated. There’s a strong flavor of the time and place, as well.
James Wan knows exactly what he’s doing.
“The Conjuring 2” brings into focus the misery and anguish the Hodgson’s go through as they are batted about by forces beyond their comprehension and control. Being haunted by pushy ghosts must be a terribly tiring experience, on top of the pressures and stress of the everyday world. Likable stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are given more opportunities in this sequel to explore the Warren’s relationship and both have great character moments that don’t involve ghostly mayhem. And although the child actors are all very talented, Madison Wolfe’s portrayal of Janet is a particularly accomplished and convincing performance.
Wan seems to be on a mission to put out intelligent, suspense packed horror films populated by rich characters who say and do interesting things. I’m cool with that.
As with 1970s films, there’s room for a scene to breathe, long takes, and none of that choppy editing that I despise. While several scenes made me jump, there are no empty scares here. There are no leaping cats pouncing out of the closet or friends who suddenly clamp their hand on your back in a dark room. And often, it’s the anticipation that gets you: as Janet pulls the sheets over her head, we see a huge close-up of her quivering face as her bedroom door bangs open and something dead reaches out of the darkness to claim her.