The files of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren have proved to be a rich and inspiring source of material for the horror genre. Movies such as The Amityville Horror, Annabelle, The Haunting in Connecticut, as well as The Conjuring are all based on their investigations. The latter was the most successful; a huge commercial and critical success which gave mainstream horror a much needed boost amid a myriad of lacklustre franchises and tired remakes. With this inevitable sequel, James Wan (Saw, Insidious) returns as director while Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine respectively.
Based on the true story of The Enfield Poltergeist, a well documented paranormal occurrence from the early 1970s, the film sees Ed and Lorraine called into action when the Hodgsons, a family in working class London, are terrorised by a demonic presence. The ghost of a previous tenant known as Bill, has taken a particular dislike to the family with 11-year old Janet being targeted by his nefarious haunting. As Ed and Lorraine are drawn deeper into the case, it becomes apparent that they are up against one of the most dangerous forces that they have encountered to date.
What helped make the original so good was the compelling story telling and well rounded characters that made you invested in the horror taking place on screen. As with all good horror films, it was also genuinely frightening. These are qualities that are once again present in The Conjuring 2. The carefully constructed scares are well paced and beautifully delivered. Wan directs with deft precision. He knows how to craft a scene, build tension in a manner that gets under your skin and avoids obvious jump scare tactics. The film still uses well established genre conventions but Wan takes these and utilises them with his own unique technique and approach. Wicked shot composition, slick camera movement, effective lighting and sound design all combine flawlessly. At times, his direction threatens to be too showy as you’re constantly aware of his signature style and use of film trickery. When the results are this good though, you can’t be over critical. The performances are uniformly decent. Wilson and Farmiga invest emotional depth and genuine chemistry to their characters, although there are moments of overt sappiness which come a tad close to melodrama. Frances O’Connor gives a fine turn as Peggy Hodgson, the bewildered mother who struggles to protect her family from inexplicable peril. Madison Wolfe as Janet is also compelling, cementing her place with the likes of Linda Blair (The Exorcist) and Heather O’Rourke (Poltergeist) in the revered cinematic lineage of young girls gripped by a supernatural menace. The creepiest element of the film though comes via Bonnie Aarons as evil incarnate, a terrifying demonically possessed nun who has the hairs on the back of your neck on red alert every time she makes an appearance.
Wan has established himself as a modern master of the genre. Although he is branching out into other areas with the likes of Fast & Furious 7 and the upcoming Aquaman, horror is his true home. On The Conjuring 2 he has raised the bar once again, delivering a film of nerve shredding suspense and cleverly crafted terror which never underestimates the importance of story and character. Here’s hoping that it’s not too long before the forces of darkness call him back into action.