This sequel to the surprise 2013 hit sees paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren come out of semi-retirement in order to travel across the pond to Blighty to investigate the infamous 1977 Enfield haunting. Throughout, they are haunted by the spectres of the past and must face their own demons in order to save both the Hodgson family and ultimately themselves.
First things first, recent horror sequels have been notoriously poor. Usually, they are just a rehash of a decent premise that achieved box office success and are made just to make a quick buck. In this sense, it would be understandable to feel sceptical going in to see The Conjuring 2. But thankfully, this film is different. An exception to that trend. Beyond our two main protagonists, this is an entirely new story and ultimately, it’s one that is far better told than its predecessor.
And as with any horror film, the first question to ask is whether it’s scary. Well judging by the reaction of the audience during my screening, the answer is a definitive yes. What makes this film stand out is how quickly the horror occurs. Within the first few minutes, where other films would carefully set the scene, The Conjuring 2 hits you with the scare that sends the Warren’s into semi-retirement. Throughout the rest of the film, bar an odd lull in the middle, the scares come thick and fast and they are by and large, a blend of both the psychological and the more often used “jump scare.” And to its credit, the film never allows you to feel relaxed and comfortable.
Janet Hodgson: It said it wants to hurt you.
Lorraine Warren: When did it say that?
Janet Hodgson: Right now.
If you don’t know, the Enfield haunting was one of the most widely publicised poltergeist incidents in the UK and it has formed the basis of numerous films (and a decent tv series with Timothy Spall) since the events were reported. It has been described as “either the longest and most witnessed poltergeist case in history, or the greatest paranormal wind-up” and to its credit, despite the Hollywood gloss, the film at least captures the issues surrounding the incident. At its core is Janet Hodgson, the adolescent young girl targeted by the poltergeist and the film centres around her relationship with her breaking family, as much as it does the relationship of the Warren’s. Beyond the scares, it is the performances of the small cast that makes this a superior horror film. Madison Wolfe as Janet is superb, capturing both the vulnerability of her age whilst also demonstrating a precocious sense of mischief. However, the film’s greatest strength is in Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga whose chemistry as the Warren’s gives the audience something to genuinely care about. Too often the characters in horror films are just a vehicle to get to the scares. But the depth within The Conjuring 2 means that the audience will feel more than simply fear throughout its run time.
This is not to say that the film is flawless. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same pitfalls that plague so many horror films. Whilst there is some genuine psychological terror here, the plot progresses in such a way that it descends into “Jump scare” clichés, such as a hand appearing on someone’s shoulder. The audience is shown far too much of the poltergeist and so this lessens the sense of fear and dread. Less is more in this instance. The other real issue here is the CGI which is used briefly during the poltergeist’s more elaborate scares. It looks incredibly dated and takes you out of the film rather than draws you further in.
But these are minor gripes. The Conjuring 2 is a pleasant surprise that breathes new life into a stale genre. It’s incredibly well acted with three dimensional characters that you will care about and more importantly, it relentlessly tries to scare the life out of you from start to finish. On this, it definitely succeeds. It’s just a shame that it reveals too much too soon.
Reviewed by David Sanders