After The Conjuring spooked its way to USD$318 million in worldwide box office returns three years ago, horror fans have been hankering for a follow-up to what was being hailed as the most atmospheric and refreshingly scary supernatural film to have come along in a while.
As an aficionado who is constantly on the lookout for fresh and satisfying horror films, I feel the success of The Conjuring as a compelling movie has a lot to do with its solid build-up (that mounting tension was palpable!) and, in spite of a number fantastical sequences that are characteristically Hollywood, it largely kept to an intimate rather lifelike depiction of a haunting. And this makes it hells creepy!
The Conjuring 2 begins with a séance in the infamous Amityville house, no doubt a reference to a beloved classic that is sure to send all the horror fans in the audience into a geek-induced tizzy. But the movie actually delves into Ed and Lorraine Warren’s next high-profile case across the pond. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return to reprise their roles as the husband and wife ghost hunting duo.
In an old, rickety council house in Enfield, England, 11-year-old Janet Hodgson, and her mother Peggy and three siblings find themselves at the centre of violent and frightening poltergeist activity. Janet, in particular, is susceptible to the invisible presence.
She gets mysterious bites, is often thrown out of her own bed while she’s sleeping, and is occasionally possessed by what they understand to be the spirit of an old man who had died in the house years before they moved in. Household items and toys move on their own or are thrown about, and there’s constant eerie knocking that seems to emanate from the walls themselves.
In real life, The Enfield Poltergeist was widely publicised in the British media in the late ‘70s, a controversial phenomenon that divided investigators and thinkers. Because of the media circus, the film postulates that the church called upon the Warrens to investigate and confirm if the whole thing was indeed the work of demonic forces or a hoax before getting involved.
I can feel your burning question – so does The Conjuring 2 live up to the hype generated by its predecessor? How does this sequel stack up to that 2013 scare fest?
As much as I was rooting for it, I have to say that it’s not as effective as The Conjuring but that doesn’t mean the movie is completely devoid of merit.
In fact, it’s off to a strong start with a series of spooky night-time incidents in the Enfield house that eventually rupture into one terrifying full-on poltergeistic event that sends the Hodgsons running toward their neighbour’s property.
Though tweaked for dramatic effect, these early sequences are actually quite faithful to what reportedly happened to the Hodgson family. At strategic points, Wan cuts off the music score supply, and the silence is unnerving as the camera restlessly follows the film’s protagonists through the dark, creaky place, hinting at a sinister presence hiding just beyond the frame.
This is really stressful and again demonstrates Wan’s deft hand at manipulating the intensity of a scene and highlighting the eerie in the everyday. Who can forget that brilliant hide-and-clap sequence in The Conjuring in which a playful moment of family bonding morphed into a ghoulish nightmare!
And that’s the thing! The Conjuring 2 would’ve been a much more effective horror film if Wan just stuck to the basics. The Warrens’ original cases are weird and frightening enough, so they don’t really need to be “juiced up” to bring on the scares.
Instead, subtlety was ditched like an unwanted date along the way: There are many more cheap jump scares in this one, too many sequences of Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities depicted as astral travelling in the spiritual dimension, and the main antagonist is a demon that looks like Marilyn Manson dressed in a nun’s habit.
It all becomes way too cartoonish for my liking, and in fact, it starts to feel less like The Conjuring and more like Wan’s other spectral saga Insidious.
It’s no secret that The Conjuring has several influences and I would even argue that it’s a throwback to haunted house classics like The Shining, and The Haunting (1963). While the predecessor feels like a skillful homage, the mix of horror tropes in the sequel comes across as a confused and untidy patchwork of many, many movies including The Exorcist and Poltergeist (1982), no thanks to its jarringly uneven tone.
It’s a shame. Wan and his crew really had something going for The Conjuring that made it stand out among the formulaic horror flicks that are saturating the market. But, except for The Witch (which I really hope you caught at The Projector), it looks like another dismal year for horror cinema in Singapore so might as well just catch it anyway for some decent thrills!
The Conjuring 2 is out in cinemas now. Tell us what think! Astral project your thoughts to us!