The James Wan-directed sequel to The Conjuring, which tells the story of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, tackles the Enfield poltergeist case which occurred between 1977 to 1979. Handled better in the 2015 three-part TV show The Enfield Haunting which blended some emotion into the narrative, The Conjuring 2 instead opts for exaggeration. With many people believing this case was a hoax involving ventriloquism and staged photos, the premise begins with unnecessary baggage and by the time you get to the final act, you realise that even the filmmakers may believe this story is bullshit, given their insertion of unconnected and imaginary characters.
The Amityville haunting is arguably more interesting than the Enfield case, and whether that too was a sham or not, the murder aspect was a better story. Instead of been given a standalone film, Amityville appears during an early scene which means interesting parts of Ed and Lorraine’s investigation such as the “ghost boy” from the famous photograph are left without any explanation.
To acknowledge the accusations, in one scene, the Warrens are being interviewed on a TV show and are asked about the Amityville case being a possible hoax. So is the Enfield poltergeist another case of genuine paranormal activity or a deception too? Well, this question isn’t really answered by writers Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, and James Wan given that they’ve spun a yarn that has little to do with what actually happened.
In terms of the cast, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson once again play Lorraine and Ed as likeable mother and father-figures. Madison Wolfe plays Janet Hodgson, the focus of the Enfield haunting and she’s another good actor but her family which includes a amateurish-stuttering brother who’s clearly in a two-bob wig aren’t in the same league. Given that “Janet” is the main tormented character, hearing her name so many times made me think of the song in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I digress.
The Enfield haunting involved “Bill” speaking through Janet. In this film, the spirit of “Bill Wilkins” also switches the TV over to the Queen or Margaret Thatcher (what’s wrong with The Goodies, Bill?). William seems like a right-wing tosser to me, especially when he exclaims it’s “my house” (I wonder what that would sound like if it was a black family who’d moved in – like an idea for a ’70s sitcom). Regardless of whether Wilkins’ backstory about dying in a fire is a fabrication, Bob Adrian’s performance of Bill isn’t on par with Joseph Bishara‘s Bathsheba from the original Conjuring. An old bloke haunting an armchair isn’t exactly the same as a suicidal witch, so queue the porky pies… (more on that in a bit).
Given this is a sequel, there’s lots of copycat scenes; there’s sleepwalking, a girl pestered by an invisible force while she’s sleeping near her sister. There’s also the I Know What You Did Last Summer-esque “looking up and shouting in the rain” scene, which is veering into Scary Movie territory. Sequel cliches isn’t the film’s biggest problems however. My main gripe with this movie is the fact that subtle scares of the fire engine toy or a chilling scream from a child’s tent is preferable to overblown set-pieces like being almost impaled by a tree as a demonic nun flings a paranormal investigator across a room. Unfortunately, subtlety goes out the window like Janet and Ed.
For people living in Britain, there’s another unbelievable aspect of this film, namely the size of Janet’s home. The dimensions of the Hodgson’s semi-detached house are far too big for a semi (ooh err missus). In a real semi, there’s hardly enough space to swing an Arri Alexa, but in The Conjuring 2, this house has huge bedrooms and a massive lounge with space for double-doors, and oh yes, a basement… in EN3! What is this? A pebble-dashed Tardis? Even though it’s depicted as a shit-hole, you’d be lucky to find a home that size if you’re a poor, single parent with a large family, especially in the 1970s, but hey, this movie might as well embellish everything from set to story.
Umpteen crucifixes rotating on the wall and someone being dangled out of a bedroom window over a spiked tree-trunk is over-the-top, Hollywood nonsense. The Conjuring 2 should have been less outlandish and closer to the first movie. If Wan and co. wanted to create a different aesthetic for a British-set sequel, they should have tonally and stylistically aimed for the underrated When The Lights Went Out, but instead we get a mixture of The Banishing and The Unholy: far-fetched and disappointing.
All through the film, there’s objects behind Lorraine bearing the name “VALAK”; a sign reading “loVe ALAK”, a child’s straw-made thingumabob, and the same words appearing on a bookshelf. This filmic foreshadowing would be useful had this name had anything to do with the goings on in Enfield. “Valak” the demon nun was evidence that the filmmakers were more concerned with sequels and the extension of the franchise than translating a non-fiction story to the screen. I’ll agree that Ed Warren’s painting of “The Nun” switching appearance when the light switches on looks creepy but did it add anything to the plot? As soon as the picture frame walks toward Lorraine, you know we’ve ventured away from plausible and into the realms of elaborate theatrics, in fact everything from the train scene onward is pure fiction.
Crowbarring Valak “The Nun” and the nursery rhyme “The Crooked Man” into the plot, this film along with the standalone Annabelle movie is where things began to go wrong for The Conjuring franchise (or The Conjuring universe) not in terms of profit but in terms of believability and substance. That being said, The Conjuring 2 despite all its problems (including being overrated by critics) is still far superior to the third sequel The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, just because James Wan’s ability to scare far exceeds the exaggerated and fib-ridden narrative. Given all it’s problems, this is still one of the better instalments in what is now a series of bombastic shit intent on making more money than fans.