Cyprus Mail
Entertainment Film & TV Reviews

Film review: The Conjuring 2 **

By Preston Wilder

It’s a good week for somewhat overlong Hollywood films made by directors of Asian origin. Now You See Me 2 is 129 minutes, helmed by Chinese-American Jon M. Chu; The Conjuring 2 is even more extended – 133 minutes, about half an hour too long – and made by Malaysian-born James Wan, currently the king of slow-burn, suspense-piling horror (he also made Insidious and the first Conjuring, then shook off all that angst with the joyous adrenaline rush of Furious 7). The two films have something else in common: they’re both sequels to films that seemed unlikely to spawn any sequels, trying to recreate the elusive something that turned the originals – non-franchise, non-brand-name movies that struck a chord with the public – into surprise smash-hits.

For about an hour, The Conjuring 2 succeeds beautifully, Wan showing his mastery of a highly formalistic kind of horror that plays with the frame to torment the audience. One of the best bits in The Conjuring (recycled, to less effect, in the sequel) was a shot where one girl claimed to see a ghost while another girl – and the audience – couldn’t: “Look! Can’t you see it?” wailed Girl A, pointing to a spot on the wall, and our eyes were fixed on that spot, waiting anxiously for some scary spook to pop out (forcing the audience to stare at only one part of the frame creates subconscious angst in itself, because we lose control of the whole image). Another example, from the sequel: a little boy thinks he hears a noise at the end of a corridor – and the camera pans with him as he peeks down the corridor, then pans back, then pans again, then stays on the corridor as the little boy goes out of frame, and so on. Will we pan to the corridor to see some terrifying spectre that wasn’t there before? Will we pan back to the boy to find him dead, or unconscious or something? It’s nerve-shredding.

The little boy is one of the Hodgson kids, living with their harried single mum in Enfield, North London in 1977 (this must be the first time that two films set specifically in 1977 – the other is The Nice Guys – are playing simultaneously at the multiplex). This, like the Amityville haunting in the US, is supposedly a true story that ‘really happened’ in 1977, the Enfield poltergeist being among the most “well-documented” of all haunted-house cases (even if, like UFO sightings, haunted houses seem to have vanished now that visual evidence is so much easier to come by and analyse). Furniture moves by itself in the Hodgson house, toys and TV remotes disappear and reappear, voices are heard – then we shift into full-on demonic possession, one of the Hodgson girls (Janet, played by Madison Wolfe) in the thrall of an evil spirit who tortures the family because “I like to hear them scream”. Enter ghost-busting couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), not just brandishing crucifixes at the ghouls – the film is unambiguously devout – but also reassuring little Janet that they know what it’s like to be “different”.

For an hour the film is great – then, increasingly, less so. It’s not just the over-enthusiastic bits of English-working-class local colour (the opening exchanges include a “wanker”, a “sod” and a “barmy”, though fortunately no “gorblimey”s), more a case of the horrors becoming too literal. It’s not scary when the ‘crooked man’ from the kids’ nursery rhyme comes to life as a spindly boogeyman, or when the deep spectral voice turns out to belong to a grumpy old codger, now deceased (the sinister nun who haunts Mrs Warren is more effective). The second half is both too flabby – the characters often behave like they’ve forgotten all about the ghosts – and increasingly daft, the little girl’s body contorted and even apparently teleported (as in The Exorcist, the notion of physical child abuse hangs unspoken over the proceedings), culminating in a mad climax with a thunderstorm raging outside that’s fun, in its way, but a long way from the subtle shocks of the first half.

Still, when The Conjuring 2 works, it works. The camera swoops and prowls (even adopting a ghost’s point of view for a few seconds) and the visuals include some lovely images, my favourite being an eerie combo of a brick wall, a foggy garden at night, and a small boy framed in a small window. In the end, we see Ed and Lorraine in the archive where they keep their mementos of old cases (Annabelle the doll peeks out from a glass case) – and there’s clearly enough material there for a dozen more Conjurings, not to mention spin-offs and maybe a couple of TV shows. A terrifying prospect? On the whole, I’m more disturbed by the thought of ‘Now You See Me 3’.

 

DIRECTED BY James Wan

STARRING Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor

US 2016                        133 mins

Related Posts

Slow down fashion with a clothes swap

Eleni Philippou

Two performances not to miss in Limassol

Eleni Philippou

Möbius spaces – new exhibition probes space

Eleni Philippou

US singer Meat Loaf has died aged 74

CM Guest Columnist

Animafest 2022: call for entries

Eleni Philippou

Music gigs to get the weekend moving

Eleni Philippou

2 comments

Comments are closed.