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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

The Conjuring 2 movie review: haunting only in its disjointed bulkiness

by MaryAnn Johanson

The Conjuring 2 red light

“Less Ed and Lorraine” and “more cheese and cardboard” is precisely the last direction a sequel to the classy original should have gone in. Yet here we are.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): liked the first film, love Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The first Conjuring movie, in 2013, distinguished itself in a genre full of cardboard characters and predictable jumpscares by approaching horror from a more psychologically incisive perspective than we’re used to seeing. The real-life “ghostbusters” Ed and Lorraine Warren were almost certainly con artists who duped the credulous, but the dramatized depiction of them in The Conjuring did at least make us feel that they believed, via the fantastic pairing of the always marvelous Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the couple, who were deeply warm and engaging. And the family whose home they were attempting to exorcise of its evil spirits felt genuinely tormented, thanks to excellent and empathetic performances that existed in an artistic realm unlike the cheesy flat one in which most horror flicks live.

So what was the obvious path to take for a sequel? If “less Ed and Lorraine” and “more cheese and cardboard” seems like precisely the last thing to do, then I agree, and I wish that someone had told this to returning director James Wan (Furious 7, Insidious: Chapter 2), also this time a contributing screenwriter. Farmiga (The Judge, Safe House) and Wilson (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Prometheus) were almost the only reason to see the original film, and they barely appear for the first hour of this overlong, two-hours-plus movietweet, and then it’s mostly to talk about the interesting stuff happening in their lives that Wan, bizarrely, chooses not to dramatize. The film opens with the Warrens in the midst of investigating the so-called Amityville horror case in early 1976 — the most famous of the “hauntings” the couple were involved with — when something scares Lorraine so badly that she “lock[s] [her]self away for eight days.” We catch a glimpse of that horror, but how it consumes Lorraine is the sort of thing that the first movie might have focused on; here it is dismissed in one line of dialogue.

“Have you seen how little we’re in the film?” “Right? It’s the only scary thing about it.”

“Have you seen how little we’re in the film?” “Right? It’s the only scary thing about it.”tweet

The bulk of this sequel — way too much of the bulky bulk — is taken up with setting up the case that the Warrens will eventually descend upon: the Enfield “haunting” of the same period, in London. In fact, it is the notoriety the Warrens gained as a result of the Amityville case that led to their being brought in on this one. Unlike with the first movie, which at least let us pretend to suspend our disbelief over ghosts and evil spirits, Conjuring 2 almost seems to go out of its way to refuse to let us do thattweet. Isn’t it plausible that lots of salacious news about a haunted house in America inspired some miserable kids in England to fake a poltergeist invasion to get some attention? Of course, Wan depicts the ghostly trouble that besets 11-year-old Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe: Joy, Trumbo) as if it’s authentic, but the director cannot muster up the same level of empathy for his characters — including 14-year-old Margaret (Lauren Esposito) and mom Peggy (Frances O’Connor: Timeline, The Importance of Being Earnest) — this time. We don’t see a family being hounded; we see a struggling single mother and stressed-out kids living in the dingiest house imaginable, and suddenly getting a whole lot more sympathy and comforting than they had before. Even the outright nods to plausible nonsupernatural explanations offered here feel more like the correct explanation than similar feints in the first movie did.

By the time Ed and Lorraine arrive in London — and start looking into what are mostly the same-old horror-flick scares: loud bumps in the night, eerie voices coming out of a little kid’s mouth — it feels like two different movies have been smushed together, and not in any intriguing waytweet. And the movie only gets more confusing and more disjointed when it appears that the particular demon that spooked Lorraine at Amityville has also followed them to London. Or was it already there and drew them in? Either way, we never get a simple rationale for how this is supposed to jibe with what is allegedly bothering the Enfield family (apparently the ghost of a previous occupant of the house).

“Negative entities like to feed off of emotional distress,” Ed “explains” to the Hodgsons. And yet no ghosts or demons made an appearance at my screening of the film, endured by one of the most restless audiences I’ve ever seen a movie with. Perhaps we weren’t distressed enough. If only ghosts were drawn to boredom, we might have been witness to something supernatural. Instead we had only something supernaturally dull up on the screen.

red light 2 stars

The Conjuring 2 (2016)
US/Canada release date: Jun 10 2016 | UK release date: Jun 13 2016

MPAA: rated R for terror and horror violence
BBFC: rated 15 (strong horror)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Awful film. I can live with bad horror movies, but this is blatant Christian propaganda. The “real” Enfield “haunting” lasted for a two year period, not the couple of weeks (over Christmas of course) depicted here, and the Warrens only spent one day in the house.
    If you believe the dubious “facts”, then the hero of the real story is psychic investigator Maurice Grosse, a Jew, not those Christian con artists the Warrens. Have Christians run out of their own BS and now have to steal from other religions?
    The original case was well documented and there is plenty of footage on Youtube. In reality, the Hodgsons’ house was immaculate, but in the film it’s filthy, the film implying that a single working class mother can’t look after her home without a man (we even see Ed rolling up his sleeves and fixing up the house).
    I’m of the opinion it was a hoax carried out by Janet Hodgson, an imaginative 11-year-old. She came up with some really good material (the line “I’m not a heaven man” is chilling in its implications), and she understood how to draw in an audience by building her story gradually. She’s a hell of a better storyteller than James Wan, that’s for sure.
    Last year a three part drama aired on UK TV titled The Enfield Haunting. It was by no means anything special, but you can watch all 3 episodes in less time than it takes to watch Wan’s film, and it manages to give us fully rounded characters with nary a crucifix in sight.

  • Matt Clayton

    I’m bewildered that Wan and his co-writers elect to heavily fictionalize one of the lesser Warren cases. Why does Hollywood like doing that? There are plenty of scary cases that would make for a great sequel, without changing or fictionalizing huge chunks of what happened (or supposed to).

  • Louisa

    The first movie DID focus on the case that traumatized Lorraine. And this film follows up on that, by telling us exactly what traumatized her and why, and making the Entity responsible the villain of the movie. It is a substantial element of the plot and characterization, hardly just one line of dialog.

    Also, having read your review, I was surprised to go see the film and discover that the Warren’s have every bit as much screen time as they did in the previous movie. My guess would be even more screen time. They certainly don’t lack for presence in the film, and even before they show up at the Green Street Haunting their own story gets, by my admittedly inexact and subjective appraisal, nearly equal time and is every bit as intense.

    The film DOES give other investigators in the case screen time, respect, and a certain heroic stature, and makes clear that Ed and Lorraine are merely working with these people rather than being in any way the ones in charge. I liked this aspect of the film, however. And it certainly doesn’t create any ambiguity about who the stars of the film are.

  • Louisa

    Firstly, I found the film’s portrayal of women to be one of the strongest points in its favor. So strong that for me it overpowers any flaws. Lorraine is the primary hero of the story, easily the strongest and most effective of the characters, and her superiority is acknowledged by her husband in a matter-of-fact way without ego or drama on his part. And unlike some films which only allow one woman to be strong without demonizing them for it, the other female investigator is actually treated with equal respect, despite the fact that she opposes Lorraine’s views. Their disagreement is never portrayed in a way that comes across catty or personally competitive of one another. There is also a refusal to portray ANY woman in a caricatured way, even those in small and throwaway roles and relationships: Note the empathy extended to the scolding schoolteacher, or the steadfastness of the friendship between Peggy and her neighbor.

    Secondly, in the previous film, Ed helped the husband fix stuff. In this film, he fixes stuff for a single mom. He likes to fix stuff, evidently.

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