James Wan directs THE CONJURING 2, a sequel to 2013’s THE CONJURING. This 2016 horror outing features a by-committee screenplay and is based on the so-called Enfield poltergeist, a paranormal case from Britain in the late 1970s. Wan does well to generate the flavour of the era, although some of the cues are a little on the nose – like the employment of the Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke.” Luckily, a lighter touch is employed with the establishment of sociopolitical context and Thatcher’s famed “Iron Lady” speech makes a neat chiffon appearance.
In 1977, the Hodgson family encounters a series of strange occurrences in their Enfield flat. One of the children, Janet (Madison Wolfe), sleepwalks and is haunted by an elderly entity calling himself Bill. He insists that the Hodgson family home is his. As things spiral out of control and mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) fears for her family’s safety, the cops are called. And when the police experience a paranormal incident themselves, all hell breaks loose. The media is involved and the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) arrive to investigate as representatives of the Church.
Wan’s shrewd recreation of the actual footage from Enfield news reports places THE CONJURING 2 in compelling territory and the onset of cynics and paranormal investigators deepens the folk narrative. Simon McBurney’s Maurice Grosse is particularly interesting, as he seems almost too eager to believe. This touches on the notion of whether the Hodgson tale is a ruse, but there’s little doubt when it comes to the perspective of the audience. We are shown spirits and all sorts of paranormal incidents from a concrete point of view, plus the conclusion leaves little doubt.
THE CONJURING 2 also wavers when it focuses on the Warrens as protagonists. This forges a needless dichotomy and pushes the film about a half hour too long. A prologue top-loads a reference to Amityville that doesn’t matter much, while Lorraine (Farmiga) has visions that add redundant theatrics. It is hard to shake the triviality of this supplementary drama, especially given the pure skill behind the production. Wan is so adept at managing motion, space and timing that he almost overcomes this movie’s distended sensibility. Almost. For every glorious tracking shot or lunging face in the dark, THE CONJURING 2 bogs itself down in exposition and tepid character development. It’s too bad, as Wan’s pure technique deserves better.