With The Conjuring 2 dominating the weekend box office, now seems like a good time to expand on my short review from the most recent episode of Geek Gab.
The sequel to 2013's The Conjuring, also helmed by director James Wan, this installment features the dramatization of another case from the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Though a couple of the Warrens' other famous investigations are referenced, the plot mostly revolves around the 1977 Enfield Poltergeist case.
Like all films "based on a true story", The Conjuring 2 takes copious amounts of dramatic license with the original source material. But James Wan's stated aim was to restore the reputation of studio horror films; not make a documentary.
Did he succeed? Let's examine the movie in light of the director's goal.
In case you're totally unfamiliar with The Conjuring 2
...here's the theatrical trailer.
Seeing as how the film's premise is based on a highly publicized haunting that's been in the media since 1977, I'm dispensing with spoiler warnings. I'll also restrain myself from discussing major fictionalized plot details.
The facts in the real life case, as in the film, are that a young girl and her family experience strange phenomena in their North London home after she plays with a Ouija board.
Obligatory pneumatology PSA: legends, folklore, and old wives' tales often contain a kernel of truth. The universally negative portrayal of Ouija boards and other methods of communicating with spirits is one nut that Hollywood's blind squirrels reliably manage to find. DO NOT play around with this stuff.
And to head off the skeptic's favorite sophomoric objection: it's not that a mass-produced toy is magic. It's that the chosen end of seeking undue power over preternatural beings and phenomena is inherently evil; not the specific means used.
Back to the film review. When ongoing disturbances, including but not limited to strange noises, poltergeist activity, teleportation of people and objects, apparitions, spiritual oppression and possession drive the family from their home, paranormal investigators--including the Warrens--intervene. The ensuing case becomes one of the most well documented hauntings in history.
The Conjuring 2 is an atmospheric, often smart, supernatural horror film with welcome thriller and mystery flourishes. James Wan set out to make a studio horror movie in the tradition of genre classics like Poltergeist and The Exorcist.
Although this movie doesn't quite rise to the level of those iconic films, Wan does prove that "studio horror" doesn't have to be synonymous with "lowest common denominator schlock" while producing a rare sequel that rivals the quality of the original.
This film's greatest successes lie in three areas"
- Background and foreshadowing: The Conjuring 2 cleverly sets up its main plot through a properly terrifying introduction that scores bonus points by delivering on a promise made at the end of the first movie.
- Mood, atmosphere, and tone: director James Wan strikes a superb balance between visceral scares, psychological horror, existential dread, and, refreshingly, scattered rays of hope. The main theme that God remains ever present even in the midst of seemingly unrelenting terror shines through strongly.
- Character: the writers, director, and actors deserve high praise for avoiding the cliched cardboard cutouts seen in too many horror movies and instead populating this film with believable characters whose problems we easily and immediately care about.
As for the film's few drawbacks, the most egregious are a couple of scenes featuring obvious CG animation that's visually and tonally dissonant with the setting. If you've seen Wan's other, similarly themed series Insidious, you'll instantly recognize the scenes I've described, as well as the director's self-indulgence.
My other beef with the movie might be specific to those who are familiar with Catholic theology and ecclesiology, but in a movie that claims to be based on true events, this one sticks out.
The plot point in question--don't worry about spoilers; it's dumb, anyway--is the reason given for Ed and Lorraine's involvement in the Enfield case. In the movie, the Church gets ahold of taped conversations with a self-identified 72 year-old dead guy spoken by an 11 year-old girl.
|"Priests like me are sworn to serve others' spiritual needs hand and foot...but we don't want to look bad, so we'll just send a lay couple in case this one's a hoax."|
The English hierarchy supposedly ask the American hierarchy to approach the Warrens about evaluating the goings-on in Enfield, with the justification that the Church can't be seen to be directly involved if the story turns out to be a hoax, because besmirching their reputation would hinder their ability to help people.
Such as the people they're not helping already.
By sending proxies not empowered with the seal of Holy Orders into potential contact with demonic forces.
Proxies who publicly trade on their close affiliation with the Church anyway.
In real life, this isn't happening. The local diocese is responsible for investigating claims of possession. Enfield is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Westminster, home of English Catholicism's mother church. The archbishop is unlikely to need assistance from a couple of Yanks.
Supporting this assessment, original Enfield Poltergeist investigator Guy Lyon Playfair said that in real life, the Warrens turned up uninvited.
Also contra the film version, it was a priest; not the Warrens, who helped the Hodgsons get their paranormal problems under control.
But in the finest movie tradition, The Conjuring 2 doesn't let real life get in the way of a brilliant, climactic ending.