FILM REVIEW – THE CONJURING 2. With Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Simon McBurney. Written by Carey Hayes & Chad Hayes & James Wan and David Johnson. Directed by James Wan. Rated R for terror and horror violence. 133 minutes.
One of the best horror films of recent years, “The Conjuring” (2013), succeeded by combining the requisite scares with solid pacing, and actors playing characters who weren’t simply props for the demons or ghosts to attacks. We got to know the family under siege and the got sufficient backstory about Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) that the ghost hunters had something at stake as well. Don’t worry about all the characterization though. THE CONJURING 2 works as a horror story in the same way the first one did.
It’s several years after the events in the first film with the action taking place largely in a working class community in North London. There Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) is trying to raise four children after her husband has abandoned the family. We’re provided with all sorts of details that makes the family seem real… until Janet (Madison Wolfe), the younger daughter, starts hearing and seeing things.
The Warrens are called in to investigate and see if the house is haunted or if it’s a hoax. As the strange occurances pile up and are witnessed by more people, it seems hard to deny. Meanwhile, poor Janet has to deal with being levitated, having her body taken over by a old dead man, and other fun stuff like that.
The Warrens, learning of the family’s trouble history, point out that demons prey on people in emotional turmoil and they have to remain strong. In an oddly moving scene Ed learns that the kids loved listening to their father’s Elvis Presley records and picks up a guitar and sings to them. Dramatically, it’s a moment akin to Julie Andrews calming the von Trapp kids with “My Favorite Things.” In the middle of a horror film it might seem odd, but it turns into a moment where we see how the Warrens sympathize with the kids and that, in turn, makes us in the audience sympathize with them. Thus when we get to the third act horrors we’re willing to suspend our disbelief at the contrivances of the showdown with the supernatural forces.
Interestingly, for those who care whether this is “real” or not, one of the biggest fabrications appears to be the involvement of the Warrens. According to at least one report, they “investigated” for no more than a day or so and were among many checking out the claims. So it might be best to say that the film is “inspired” by true events rather than being a documentary recreation of them.
Once again the casting is solid, with Farmiga and Wilson returning as the Warrens, and O’Connor and Wolfe especially strong as harried mother and haunted daughter. The film falters only in the scenes at the Warren’s home where the implication that they are the ones being targeted come across as so much hokum.
Nonetheless, for those seeking some summer thrills and chills without rivers of blood and gore, “The Conjuring 2” is a solid successor to the original.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.