The Conjuring 2 (2016)

The next true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren

In 1976, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively) are investigating the infamous Amityville Haunting case. While in a trance, Lorraine encounters a horrific vision, which will continue to plague her.

One year on, in 1977, the Warrens, at the insistence of Lorraine, have decided to retire from paranormal investigations, however, Lorraine’s apparition from a year earlier still troubles her and her husband Ed, who’s now started to have nightmares connecting to the same vision.

Meanwhile, in London, the Hodgsons, a working class family consisting of single mum Peggy (Frances O’Connor) and her young children Johnny (Patrick McAuley), Billy (Benjamin Haigh), Margaret (Lauren Esposito) and Janet (Madison Wolfe) are simply trying to get by. After Janet dabbles with a homemade Ouija board, a dark presence begins to make itself known to her, first forcing the 11-year-old to sleepwalk, then talking through her with another voice, before becoming violent and frightening the entire household.

That familiar 'Oh S##t' expression!
That familiar ‘Oh S##t’ expression!

As the Hodgson case worsens without a hope in sight, the story eventually comes to the attention of the Warrens who reluctantly become involved, despite Lorraine’s vision from a year ago appearing to have some sort of link to the case. As the lives of the Warrens and Hodgsons become entwined, the evil at the heart of the case threatens to destroy them all.

James Wan, Furious 7 (2015), has delivered a second horror masterpiece. There, I’ve said it. Any doubts about the Australian director’s abilities to bring the goods should pretty much be swept aside by the end of this gripping sequel to the masterful 2013 original — yep it’s that good.

The old adage ‘If ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind here and I couldn’t be happier. All of the attention to characters, naturalism, atmosphere and subtle tension building that made the first flick such a bonafide hit have been maintained, Wan investing even more faith in his cast with longer takes and boy, do they deliver.

Patrick Wilson, Insidious (2010), and Vera Farmiga, The Judge (2014), steadily slip back into the characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren, convincing as both a couple and as demonologists — when they believe something, so do we.

The biggest casting challenge in the first film was getting the big family right and it’s the same here, yet kudos again to the casting team of Anne McCarthy, Riddick (2013), Kellie Roy, Escape Plan (2013), and Rose Wicksteed, AfterDeath (2015), for bringing together a bunch of superb children to play off each other — they feel like authentic siblings. Madison Wolfe, The Campaign (2012), in particular has a lot of heavy lifting to do, and yet, in one of the film’s most touching scenes, where she confesses much of her inner turmoil and confusion to Vera Farmiga, she does so with such effortlessness, way ahead of her young years. Folks, I think we’ve got another star in the making right here.

Vera Farmiga meets Marilyn Manson's self-portrait collection
Vera Farmiga meets Marilyn Manson’s self-portrait collection

The script — written by Carey and Chad Hayes, The Conjuring (2012), director Wan and David Johnson, Orphan (2009) — is based on the real-life Enfield Poltergeist case, touching on the skepticism of the period, chiefly that of the phonies trying to cash in on the widespread hysteria surrounding William Friedkin’s 1973 shocker The Exorcist.

While Wan has lost his longtime go-to cinematographer John R. Leonetti (who shot the previous film) to a directing career, he has gained a worthy successor in Don Burgess, The Book of Eli (2010), who stays true to the naturalism and patient roots laid out by Leonetti’s work. As touched on earlier, there are even longer takes in this sequel that allow the cast to really do some fine work.

One scene that particularly comes to mind is when Ed Warren initially summons the spirit to speak through Janet Hodgson. As the entity doesn’t wish to be seen, Ed is forced to turn away — and this is where we get a long take with shallow depth allowing just enough of a visual idea through. This moment is controlled with great firmness by Patrick Wilson, whose efforts would have otherwise gone unappreciated in typical cut-away editing rhythm; it’s this careful balance of style, patience and performance that leads to flat-out creepy.

For those who are perhaps yawning at the idea of subtle spooks, I should mention there are also a few great explicit scare moments, one in particular literally made me (and the audience) jump — all I’m gonna say is ‘painting’ and you’ll know it when you see it. Another one, while a bit out of place, involves a stop-motion-like tall figure and is mercifully short, though well designed.

Blue Moon
Blue Moon

I otherwise can’t fault this film. I had moderate hopes for an enjoyable follow-up and eventually found myself wowed at the directorial confidence and genre mastery on display here. If this doesn’t demonstrate to audiences that James Wan is a filmmaking force to be reckoned with, I don’t know what will.

If you’re a horror fan, why are you still reading this? Lightning rarely strikes twice in these kinds of films, so get onto it folks!

P.S. — And hey, speaking of lightning striking twice, for those in the Melbourne area and are after a double Conjuring hit, I highly recommend getting onto the Astor on Friday 26th August at 7.30pm. It’s gonna be a chilly night.

4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

The Conjuring 2 is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia