The first Conjuring movie built its tension through a sense of foreboding, atmosphere, and terrifying imagery, largely sidestepping the genre pitfalls of fake-outs and jump scares to create one of the finest horror movies Hollywood has churned out in recent memory. The Conjuring 2 on the other hand sadly falls into too many of said traps, and leans too heavily on clichés to be considered a resounding success. It most certainly has its merits, but it just doesn’t have the smarts of its predecessor.
Restraint is the key here. Whilst The Conjuring teetered on the brink of over-stretching believability in its final act, its sequel seems to have no such qualms, leaving the film’s closing sequences as nothing more than a loud and messy array of ghouls, screaming and signposted twists. It’s odd considering that up to that point the film is actually quite levelheaded, barring the odd premonition here and there. In fact for the first hour, the lead characters, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are kept entirely cut off from the spookiness happening over in England. Which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it allows for methodical scene setting at the home of the Hodgson’s, victims of an increasingly violent haunting. But a curse in that for half of the film, any time spent in America with the Warren’s feels like a distraction from the meat of the story, with their down time not anywhere near as compelling as the events unfolding in the London suburb of Enfield.
Because the introduction of the poltergeist at the Hodgson’s is exactly as you would hope. Creepy, taut, and, most importantly, scary. The atmosphere is palpable, the performances, in particular from the possessed young Janet (Madison Wolfe) are convincing, and interestingly the haunting is generally presented as fact. Sure there’s a sceptic who comes to visit the house, there are one or two cursory mentions of it all being a hoax, and the church needs a bit of convincing, but mostly we thankfully bypass the part where the adults don’t believe the children. The dark spirit is felt by the family, their neighbours and the police alike. Which by all accounts is not how the real life events that the film is based on occurred, but bearing in mind just how bonkers it all gets in the final act it makes a lot of sense.
It’s once the Warrens get themselves over to England to investigate the mysterious happenings that the qualities of their characters come to the fore; predominantly Ed’s screen presence, and Lorraine’s heart. It’s also when we finally see them at their best, facing evil, rather than sitting around painting and reading books, as they do in the opening hour. Of the pair, Lorraine fares the best. Vera Farmiga can panic with the best of them, and boy does she get to here – though thankfully with none of the hysterics of her performance in Bates Motel. With the two sets of characters and their individual plot threads aligned, along with the introduction of one heck of a chilling nun, everything seems in place for a rip-roaring finale. But it quite simply falls flat. It loses not only its momentum, but also any impression of realism. And it’s a shame really, because it means that it squanders much of the good work done previously. In the build up we get possessed children, poltergeists and English people – all of which are creepy. In the climax we get caterwauling and hokey premonitions, which are less so.
Yet in spite of reservations, it at least builds enough good will to make further possible adventures with the Warrens welcome. A little bit more restraint next time wouldn’t be such a bad thing though.
Rating (out of 5):