I first read the screenplay for The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist (as it was known then) when the company I was at was bidding to work on the effects. At the time I was struck by two things. One, that if we got it and I was to go on set to supervise then instead of some glamorous location I would be in grotty old Enfield, a miserable part of North London and home to my ex mother-in-law. It’s unlikely she would have invited me round for tea, which was at least something. And two, whilst the script was well written and solid it didn’t grab me as anything new or even that exciting.
It is well known that the screenplay is the foundation of any movie. If it isn’t a solid construction, the only thing the rest of the film can do is crash down around it. However, the screenplay isn’t the be all and end all of a production and The Conjuring 2 is a prime example of that. Okay, so it remains, as it did on page, a robustly constructed story with good dialogue (considering some of the exposition needed for such a film) and interesting lead characters. It also isn’t anything new, dealing with haunting in suburban homes and young girls getting possessed by demons, both of which have been done a hundred times before. However, what director James Wan and his team has brought to the screen supersedes what was written down in black and white. He has taken that basic foundation and built a castle on the top.
The Enfield Poltergeist is allegedly a true incident. A recently divorced mother and her four children are relentlessly tormented by a malevolent spirit, particularly the younger daughter, Janet, who may or may not be possessed by it. It takes psychic dynamic duo Ed and Lorraine Warren to fly in and solve the case and banish the demon back to hell, which isn’t much different from Enfield so I’m not sure why it bothered. When I say true I mean maybe bollocks. The Warrens actually didn’t get involved much, just turning up for a day unannounced before scuttling back to America. And even the film acknowledges that some of the photos of young Janet flying through the the air could just be her jumping.
But The Conjuring 2 isn’t trying to be a historical document, it merely uses the “truth” to add an extra layer of fear to the proceedings. What this film is is a great ghost trainbat the fairground: you know where you’re going but it’s going to frighten the life it of you on the way.
The superstar of The Conjuring series is director James Wan. He said after the first film that he was through with horror but clearly the stress and strain of directing Fast and Furious 7 sent him back to the comfort of the genre he knows best. I was worried that his statement about being through with horror would mean he’d be phoning it in here for the cash, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Wan has long, incredibly clever tracking shots setting up the haunted house and it’s geography whilst at the same time developing the family in their environment. He uses the darkness and obscuring parts of walls and furniture to full effect, making you think there is something awful just out of sight (by the way – there usually is). He and his excellent crew also place a huge amount of attention to detail to recreate poverty stricken working class London in the nineteen seventies. This isn’t just as a faithful recreation of the events but also a way to increase the feeling of dread – the house is a ramshackle wreck of a property before anything supernatural happens. It’s like it is made to welcome ghosts.
It’s not all perfect though. They may have got posters of Purdey from The New Avengers on the wall just right but it’s really unlikely they would have had a colour television in a house like that, and no way in hell would they have had a remote control. Also is the house is a little TOO grim. With its flooded cellar and peeling mouldy walls it’s almost unbelievable that anyone could live there, but then maybe that’s the point.
There are other things that stand out like SImon McBurney playing local paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse. He looks like a comedy character from an old Dick Emery show. It’s hugely distracting. Look:
However if you look at the real Grosse you realise that it’s a completely accurate portrayal afterall:
One of my maths teachers at school sported the same look now I come to think of it. Oh and the London accents are all over the place, often sounding like characters from On The Buses in an attempt to capture that particular sound which has faded a bit nowadays. Weirdly the young American actor playing Janet, Madison Wolfe, pulls off the most convincing North London accent, and she’s only thirteen.
These are minor complaints. I really do hope they try something a bit different for the next movie, story wise, but this is such a well made horror film with such dedication from all involved that it is hard to criticise. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are back as the Warrens and both give it their all. Farmiga has the most to do with her wild visions and creepy trances, doing them without looking a bit daft is really quite a feat but she makes it look easy. However it’s the chemistry between the two of actors that makes them so compelling. I mean if you think about it, the Warrens are a middle aged couple who are basically weird social misfits with terrible clothes taste but Farmiga and Wilson commit themselves so much to their roles that it ends up feeling that they are the only thing protecting us from hell taking over the world. They may be oddballs but they know things we can’t ever know and should never want to.
That commitment runs throughout the rest of the cast and crew. There are hundreds of ropey ghost films about but none of them seem to put their all into making as good a piece of entertainment as The Conjuring movies. That goes for Warner Brothers too who are prepared to stump up a decent (but not over the top) amount of money to make a small intimate ghost story about a family and its protectors. No one is saying that The Conjuring films are completely original but they do show what can be done with a talented team given the resources to make as good a horror movie as they can do within the confines of the genre.