The Conjuring 2
June 10, 2016
There. I said it. It’s out in the open. You may commence with your judgement and hatred.
However, on the topic of the sequel, despite some problems, I was far more entertained by this particular visit with the Warrens.
Yes, the Warren ghost-hunting duo is back. The film begins with the conclusion of their investigations at the so-called “Amityville Horror”, in the wake of the Lutz family’s exodus from that famous and unholy house. As Lorraine Warren (Bates Motel’s Vera Farmiga) conducts a séance and transports herself to the killings that happened within the house (this sequence is disturbing), she has a vision of her partner and husband Ed’s (Patrick Wilson) death as well as a run-in with a very scary and very ghostly nun. Around the same time, across the pond in a small community in England, the Hodgson family – single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) and her four young children – have begun to experience paranormal and frightening activity – leading to absolute disruption in their lives. The two stories will eventually converge, as the Warren’s expertise is called upon by the Catholic Church to assist in determining if the events in the Hodgson household are the real deal. And as in the original film, there will be a bitter and brutal showdown between good and evil.
It seems a bit ridiculous to point out the generally good work of acting pros like Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. We know they consistently deliver quality acting products, so instead of spending time discussing their moments, I want to focus on two relative unknowns and their tremendous work in this picture.
As Peggy Hodgson – the single mother of four children – Frances O’Connor (of Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence) brings great strength to her role as the matriarch of this close-knit, poor family. She’s pretty no-nonsense, and so when things begin to go bump in the night, she faces them with no fear – flinging open closet doors and going down those creaky old steps in the middle of the night to investigate those aforementioned “bumps”. O’Connor is appropriately terrified when need be, but she oozed that protective maternal instinct, despite the fact that early on, she is sort of illustrated as a “bad mother” – smoking in front of her children and telling them point blank that they’re broke. But when the going gets tough, beware the protective mother.
And absolutely stealing the show is Madison Wolfe as Janet Hodgson, the younger daughter of the Hodgson clan (the family has two boys and two girls), and the object of interest for the spirits inhabiting the house. It’s a performance rather reminiscent of a young Linda Blair in The Exorcist, although not quite as extreme as that Oscar-nominated performance. But there are plenty of dark places where Wolfe has to go as Janet, and it’s always amazing to see young children in pictures like this – able to find such extreme terror and inner darkness. Wolfe really shines in the moments when she channels something from the other side – the television interview being a prime example. And her happy reaction to Ed Warren (Wilson) strumming a guitar and singing Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” – in the midst of all this confusion and chaos – is heartwarming, heartbreaking and true.
The film is actually two separate pictures – flashing back and forth between the Warrens and the family, as things in the Hodgson household go from bad to worse. I was far more interested in what was going on in the England portions of the film, and every time the film would return to the Warrens, I found my interest waning. And the fact that we were following two stories, proves that the film was just too long. At 2 hours and 14 minutes, some trimming would have benefitted the picture. However, I did enjoy seeing the two stories come together.
And of course, you’re wondering, “Is it scary?” Yes. Yes it is. It’s got some nearly unbearable tension. Two particular examples: the fire truck scene is nail-bitingly good and the moments surrounding the nun painting in the Warren’s den – inspired. As for “boo” moments – they’re around every corner – but nothing can prepare you for the Insidious-inspired “remote control” sequence, as an under-the-weather Janet is left home alone. These are some hand-covering-the-face moments. Good stuff!
But, when all is said and done, there is one particular sequence which left me nearly speechless. It was so ingenious, so terrifying and so original – I can’t think of another scene like this anywhere – that were I judging solely on these few inspired minutes of screen-time, I would surely offer a perfect score. I certainly won’t spoil it (it’s a scene which takes place shortly after the Warren’s arrive in England to investigate), but when you see it, you’ll know exactly what I’m referencing. Wow. Wow. And triple wow.
One of my big problems with the picture, is that it borrows so heavily from other genre classics. There is so much of Poltergeist and The Exorcist in this picture, it actually becomes distracting. Why, during the Q&A I was able to attend prior to my particular screening, director James Wan says that Poltergeist was one of his first horror experiences as a child. Well, it shows. There is “lovingly paying homage” and there is “going a bit overboard”. Heck, I can’t say I blame him. Poltergeist is my #3 favorite film of all time. I get the sense that Wan and his contemporaries are counting on the fact that perhaps the younger generations aren’t completely educated on horror classics of past decades. So these tricks and images and ideas are all fresh to these newer audiences. But for old curmudgeons like me – who have seen it before – it borders on “been there, done that”.
I had some trouble justifying some of the actions taken by Ed in the climax. I can’t explain what I’m referencing – for fear of spoiling too much – but it’s been a common problem in horror films, when a character puts their life on the line for a virtual stranger, and has to justify this to a loved one. In this and so many other instances, I didn’t buy it. And then it became a melodramatic exchange between Ed and Lorraine. No. Just no. And on that note, there was simply too much schmaltz toward the end of the film.
When it comes right down to it, The Conjuring 2 is a well-acted, beautifully-produced and a thrilling REHASH of many ideas already done.
The Conjuring 2 opens in wide release today. If you loved the original, I’m sure you’ll love this. If you were like me and found the first film to be a bit “meh”, you might be more intrigued by this second journey into the Warren’s playbook.