The Conjuring 2 | Review
You Gotta Have Faith: Wan Advances another Franchise with Familiar Jolts
After leaving behind his Insidious franchise and lending his name to the Fast and the Furious films with their seventh installment, contemporary horror originator James Wan provides us with a sequel to his 2013 hit with The Conjuring 2, yet another true story lifted directly from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators infamous for their involvement in the Amityville Horror incident. This time around, Wan highlights the staunch religious streak of the ghostbusting duo as they face a backlash following their most famous case, with Lorraine plagued by a considerable demonic force attempting to terrorize her with visions of Ed’s impending demise. For some reason, this ties into a ghostly presence plaguing a low-income single mum and her four children in 1977 North London, and how the Warrens are once again reluctantly drawn into nourishing a troubled family’s emotional and spiritual needs. Undoubtedly, there are audiences hungering for the exact type of payoff Wan provides, pitting chivalrous characters against forces of darkness in various environments calibrated specifically to play with our primeval fears. But beyond several jump scares, this latest chapter regarding the buttoned up religious protagonists relies heavily on connotations established by the more tonally balanced first film, wasting an exceptional amount of time on clunky exposition before it becomes a sentimental saga regarding faith and family.
While Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) face the heated accusations launched against the Lutz family haunting in Amityville, the couple decide to take a break from accepting any new cases, while Lorraine suffers repetitive visions of a demonic nun (who looks an awful lot like Marilyn Manson) killing Ed. But across the Atlantic, young Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) finds herself plagued by the spirit of a geriatric man who died in the house she now lives in with her mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) and three siblings in Enfield, North London. As the disturbances in the household worsen, the police put Peggy in touch with the church, but they privately seek the advice of the Warrens. Gun-shy from the adverse publicity following Amityville, Ed and Lorraine are reluctant to become involved, but agree to travel to London as advisors simply to observe what’s going on. Though they believe the Hodgson family’s fear, it seems Lorraine is not able to sense any spiritual presence in the home, while a pair of other paranormal investigators already on the scene (Simon McBurney and Franka Potente) are on various sides of opinion regarding the Enfield incident as a potential hoax. Eventually, the Warrens are swayed to believe young Janet, but find the root of the problem to be something much more insidious, indeed.
Although Farmiga and Wilson are more than capable performers, their portrayals of Ed and Lorraine Warren seem strangely inconsistent, which is partly the fault of the monotonous screenplay (this time around penned by Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson). Religious folks ensconced in the occult are a familiar cinematic contradiction, used in faith based horror films either effectively (as in The Exorcist) or impotently (as in something like The Reaping, also scripted by Chad and Carey Hayes). But if it only takes a few anxiety-inducing jump scare to satisfy your spine tingling needs, than The Conjuring 2 may not warrant complaint (and Wan succeeds in a couple moments to relish, the most notable being Farmiga stuck alone in a room with a creepy painting). However, anyone who was already grown tired of the paranormal formula (which predates Wan’s borrowed tropes from Insidious and The Conjuring by countless previous films) will most likely find this episode a driveling bit of claptrap since it is illogical, overly long, and incredibly silly.
Rather than get to know more about the Warrens, we’re stuck with the rather tedious Hodgson clan (once again, disenfranchised folk portrayed by glossy character actors, Frances O’Connor stepping into a cliché filled last by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston), and a pair of teenage girls suffering from the routine symptoms. The Warrens don’t unite with their cause until nearly an hour into the film, the narrative choking on strange asides attempting a forced intimacy upon the strangely asexual chemistry between Wilson and Farmiga (including an incredibly awkward moment where he balks at having to sleep in a separate bed). Wilson, in particular, is phenomenally cornball this time around, crooning an Elvis Presley track and once more serving as a stand-in handyman for the plagued family, giving advice to the possessed Janet by telling her about how “Jesus kicks butt” while he reconfigures their kitchen sink.
Despite Farmiga’s sometimes preternaturally tranquilizing presence, the screenplay neuters her at every turn, with silly passages like “You know the demon in your painting is real” (which, of course, follows a ridiculous scene where Ed Warren gets up in the middle of the night to paint the demon nun in his nightmare), or wailing, “What about my vision?” Lazily, The Conjuring 2 contemplates a comprehension of faith and uneasily manipulates a resolution through the same tired, standard tropes of good vs. evil. We’ve come to an unquestioning age where audiences seem to think this type of shorthand is effectively thrilling and worthy of applause. But it’s not.