CGI, Cinema, Demons, Ed Warren, Film, Ghosts, Horror, Horror Film, Insidious, James Wan, Janet Hodgson, Lorraine Warren, Monsters, Movie Review, Patrick Wilson, Saw, The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, The Enfield Haunting, Vera Farmiga
“The Conjuring” was a good horror film; it had suspense, impressive visuals, and two decent lead performances. However, one thing that it didn’t showcase was restraint. Its ending was overly dramatic, and whilst it built atmosphere reasonably well it constantly fell back on silly jump scares.
This sequel, which again focuses heavily on Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), falls victim to the same problems as its predecessor, and whilst it does have a couple of impressive redeeming factors I felt that it let itself down towards the end.
“The Conjuring 2” revolves around The Enfield Haunting case, but it also makes reference to another infamous case, The Amityville Haunting. These are two of the most notorious and well-documented cases of paranormal activity in history, so in order to make the film interesting James Wan had to find a new angle to attack the material from. This angle is the Warrens, and in particular Lorraine’s haunting by a mysterious demon in the guise of a nun.
These visions are quite scary, mostly because the demon itself is visually threatening, but for me the demon damaged the story significantly. Part of the appeal of this film is that it tackles a true story: when those two words are mentioned in relation to a horror film it makes the fear more real, more tangible, so you want the film itself to be believable. You don’t want CGI monsters with silly names trying to make you jump, you want shadows in the corner and voices in the dark – sadly, the latter give way to the former as the film drags on, and eventually the story loses any and all credibility.
Towards the start of the film there’s an extended sequence in which Billy (Benjamin Haigh), the youngest of the Hodgson children, goes downstairs to get a drink of water. He looks outside and sees the swing in the garden moving by itself, and when he makes his way back to his room he rolls a toy fire truck towards what appears to be a makeshift den. The fire truck then rolls back down the hall towards Billy’s room, sirens blaring, and the whole audience is pinned to their seats waiting for the ghost that pushed it to be revealed. It’s moments like this one which create the atmosphere necessary to make a horror film scary, and it takes not only a threatening villain, but a mixture of menacing lighting, fear-provoking music and considered cinematography to pull it off correctly.
Nobody is truly scared when the ghost actually rears its head because there’s nothing scarier than that which can be created by one’s own imagination. At the end of the day only you know what scares you the most – only you know what it was that pinned you to your seat when that fire truck started to move. So, when the film reveals that the cause of your fear was the ghost of an old man and a demon dressed as a nun, it’s a little disappointing. I’m not saying that these two creatures wouldn’t be fear-inducing if they really did haunt you, because of course they’d be frightening!
If I saw an old woman dressed as a nun sitting in the corner of my room then I’d probably have a heart attack and die of fright right then and there, but that doesn’t mean that the reveal in this film was effective, because the fact is that I wasn’t really there. Seeing any kind of ghost in real life would be ludicrously frightening to the point that I think I’d instantly lose my mind, so the job of a horror film is to recreate that feeling to some minimalistic degree – the best way of doing that is by showing restraint and letting the audience scare themselves.
Sadly, “The Conjuring 2” doesn’t do this, at least not all the way through, and when the ghost is revealed the film becomes a lot less compelling. Initially “The Conjuring 2” is able to manipulate its audience into manifesting their own nightmares onto the screen by not having a physical version of the ghost appear, but it’s only able to do this because it doesn’t want to give away the game too early. It doesn’t feel as though the writers or the director withheld what was haunting the family because they wanted to exercise restraint, but rather because there’s a formula in place that modern horror films tend to follow whereby tension is built and then the villain of the piece is revealed. This works some of the time, but it’s important to realise that this formula only exists because of what I’ve already talked about.
Nevertheless, the fact that the ghost which haunts the family isn’t particularly scary is offset by the fact that the film is filled with creative camera angles and harrowing music. There’s an intense pace to the events of the film, and the way that music builds to key moments means that even when nothing is happening you can’t relax. This feeling of unease is heightened by the fact that often scenes are framed in such a way that the background of a shot is blurred and masked in darkness, thus forcing audience members to falsely believe that something is about to happen.
Every great horror film has to have a clear tone, and usually this is best created by the music and the cinematography because often the genre isn’t able to attract an A-List cast. This is definitely the case for “The Conjuring 2”, because at times the performances are a little silly and the dialogue is uninspired, but it has a distinct visual style and a score which can only be described as demonic (it’s the kind of music you’d expect to hear if you were attending a satanic ritual).
It’s an assured film in many ways, but as I’ve mentioned on several occasions it lacks a gentle touch. I can’t pretend that this is a massive surprise, because much the same can be said about the first film in this franchise and indeed of all of James Wan’s films. Take a look back at his filmography and you’ll see near-classics made on a shoestring budget like “Insidious” and “Saw”, and you’ll notice that they face similar criticisms (or at least would’ve done if I’d been reviewing when they were released). As such, I feel that the biggest problem that “The Conjuring 2” has is its direction, because the cinematography, music, and performances are all unquestionably above average.
However, I can’t pretend that I didn’t enjoy the experience of watching this film in a packed cinema, late at night, with a bunch of like-minded strangers. Plenty of people in the audience watched the film through their fingers, including myself, although I only did so because my imagination was doing all the work. It’s a shame that this movie made the same mistakes as its predecessor because I genuinely believe that it had all the makings of a classic, but at the same time it was a good effort considering the genre and its many annoying tropes. It isn’t as realistic as “The Enfield Haunting”, a three-part series which tackles the same subject matter in a much more thoughtful way, but it’s a horror film worth watching if you’re a fan of the genre.