Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

 (l to r) Madison Wolfe, Vera Farmiga in "THE CONJURING 2" Copyright: © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy

(l to r) Madison Wolfe, Vera Farmiga
Copyright: © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy

Will The Conjuring 2 scare up as much popular appeal as its 2013 predecessor?

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Prepare to tiptoe down another spooky lane with the paranormal team of Ed and Lorraine Warren. As in 2013’s The Conjuring, this sequel dips into the Warrens’ case files once again. This time around, The Conjuring 2 chronicles the 1977 case of the supernatural possession of an 11-year-old girl in Enfield, a small, northern borough of London.

Alumni abound: Director James Wan, writers Chad and Carey Hayes, and lead actors Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga all take a second bite out of The Conjuring franchise. Rather than the original film’s setting in a backwoods farmhouse, The Conjuring 2 takes us to a well-populated row of council houses (a.k.a social housing), where neighbors, police, reporters and an assorted team of experts are trying to determine if the girl’s demonic possession is nothing but a hoax.

The story opens with scenes occurring on both sides of the pond. Relaxing at their home in Connecticut, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are on a self-imposed sabbatical. They’re exhausted from the emotional stress of their prior cases, as well as having to face constant public scrutiny over their findings. And Lorraine’s having visions that Ed may be in danger if they continue to investigate further paranormal happenings.

Meantime, in north London, struggling single mom Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor, bearing an amazing resemblance to a young Barbara Hershey) is trying to keep her children from going hungry. And life doesn’t get any easier when her young daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) finds herself sleepwalking, fighting with a freewheeling remote control, and ducking hefty pieces of flying furniture. Problems escalate when the spirit of a furious old man shows up to sporadically commandeer her vocal chords and personality.

Given the concerns as to whether there is an actual demonic possession, a local priest (The Conjuring‘s Father Gordon) requests that the Warrens fly to London in order to merely observe and determine whether the occurrences are legitimate. (As any moviegoer knows, being called in “to merely observe” never, ever works out that way.)

Vera Farmiga in "THE CONJURING 2" Copyright: © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Vera Farmiga in “THE CONJURING 2”
Copyright: © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Director James Wan (Furious 7, The Conjuring, Insidious, Saw) has developed into quite the horror-meister, his later films exhibiting a more assured touch. Here, he tinkers with the classic pacing of the anticipated bump in the night, elongating the silent pause before delivering on the promised moment of terror. With his DP Don Burgess, he crafts amorphous shadows in the dark that only slightly materialize into a shape … maybe you see it, maybe you don’t.

Wan presents a seemingly tongue-in-cheek nod to horror aficionados’ expectations with all the usual clichés: the creaking doors (has no one mastered the art of oiling a hinge?), the self-propelled rocking chairs, the dusty mirrors, the ineffective crosses … and, of course, the harmless toys that suddenly turn malevolent. Such as the Hodgson family’s 19th century zoetrope, depicting the silhouette of a tall, thin, spindly-legged man skittering to the sing-song, “There once was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile.” We know it’s eerie, but we don’t know how the filmmakers will exploit it.

Horror prop clichés aside, sometimes an unanticipated vision will corporealize on screen. (Hinting rather than spoiling: Be sure to look closely at the portrait of the nun.)

(l to r) Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson in "THE CONJURING 2" Copyright: © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

(l to r) Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson Copyright: © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

As expected, it’s up to the Warrens to save the day … and ideally, the same should be said for the actors who portray them. On the one hand, Vera Farmiga is a Midas-like talent, mining gold out of even the most lackluster of projects. Here, as Lorraine Warren, she conveys a ladylike demeanor and fragile sensitivity that belies a fierce Amazon warrior’s heart beating within. Yet on the other hand, her other half is, um, far from her better half. Playing Ed Warren, Patrick Wilson adopts a forced cheeriness around the Hodgson family, in a manner often used by people who are uncomfortable around children. (Their voices grow louder and their tone takes on a faux upbeat enthusiasm as they attempt, and fail, to communicate with those short little strangers.) Even in the tender scenes with his wife, Wilson appears flat. The fact that these two actors are working together for a second time, sporting little chemistry, is confounding.

Madison Wolfe (Keanu, Joy, Trumbo) plays Janet, a happy, fun-loving preteen. As the story develops, we witness the joy gradually drain out of her face, her mounting fear eventually morphing into a resigned acceptance of her impending destruction. And given the actress’s added challenge of having to portray glimpses of a glowering spirit with a demonic grin who treats Janet like his personal puppet, Wolfe delivers a bravura performance.

Like the original movie, The Conjuring 2 is based on a true story. While the script often appears illogical (e.g., why doesn’t the family pack up and leave?), the filmmakers had to adhere to the underlying facts. And the fact is that in the 1970s, a poor family didn’t have the option to move until the government allowed a relocation.

In the end credits, as the film displays photographs that were taken in real time during the events, the story’s veracity is brought home. Akin to the Hodgsons’ quest to validate their 1977 account of a demonic presence, now, in 2016, the filmmakers prove that the narrative of The Conjuring 2 is far from a hoax.

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Rating on a scale of 5 valuable possessions: 3.5

Release date: June 10, 2016
Directed by: James Wan
Story by: Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes & James Wan
Screenplay by: Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Running Time: 133 minutes
Rating: R

Here’s the trailer for The Conjuring 2:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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