I saw this movie yesterday and was already working on this review--I trust you won't think me cruel or insensitive for returning to 'reel' horror as opposed to spending more time with real life at its most sickening and depressing.
In the late 1970s, Ed and Lorraine Warren went to London to investigate a reported haunting. There. That much is true, documented and undeniable. Therefore, if you use that fact as the premise of your movie, you can say that it's 'based on the true story,' embellish it as you might. The debate over the authenticity of the Warrens' findings in this and many other cases is a subject not for a film review but for a different article altogether. I will, however, allow that the skeptics have more of a presence in this outing than before--if you're among that number, you'll be represented, but you'd be foolish to hope to find yourself vindicated--this is a horror movie (again directed by James Wan from a story by Carey and Chad Hayes) and the demons are real, case closed.
THE CONJURING 2 actually kicks off in the aftermath of the AMITYVILLE HORROR story (and yes, we even start with those famous half-moon windows). While the Lutz family ultimately declared their tale a 'hoax,' the Warrens deny that denial (we will even later see a character in this sequel deliberately fake a supernatural incident--but only under supernatural duress, naturally). While the haunting itself remains open to argument, the mass murder that took place there was all too real, and THE CONJURING 2 gets off to a gripping start as a trance-ridden Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) is walked through the entire event--in the role of the killer.
Meanwhile, over in London... The Hodgson family is apparently being harassed by the spirit of the old man who used to live in their home. As if the family didn't have enough troubles... mother Peggy is struggling to make ends meet for her two daughters and two sons (all with problems of their own) after their father abandoned them. There's all sorts of negative energy happening--could that account for the haunting? Did the daughters invite something sinister over by playing with a home-made Ouija board? Hard to say... the nasty old man (who takes possession of the younger daughter's body whenever he feels like it) certainly seems able to account for himself. But while all this is going on, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine are being haunted by the specter of a demonic nun--could there be a connection? In any event, the Church dispatches the Warrens to check out the British haunting--they can't involve themselves directly just yet.
The tropes are as familiar as ever, but director Wan has lost none of his knack for making them seem fresh and surprising--not least of all by restraining himself from impatiently going for the 'good stuff' much too early and trying for a jump scare every five minutes. We're allowed to soak in the new territory and its character as we get to know the new players quite well, while the 70s re-creation seems as authentic as possible (the girls' room is certainly haunted by a Soul... David Soul by name--and that's based on the original photographs and not meant as an in-joke. Starsky and Hutch are all over the walls--though it's nice to also see the New Avengers if you know where to look--and "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby" is heard on the soundtrack). The haunting incidents increase in intensity, and Wan expertly teases fresh horrors to come: from the moment I saw the Crooked Man on the kinescope toy, I was champing at the bit for him to join the fray... and he does NOT disappoint, to give but one example. Meanwhile, the director allows his Italian horror influences more play than he did in the original CONJURING... I spotted tributes to THE BEYOND (a flooded basement begs for the emergence of Joe the Plumber) and TENEBRAE in particular and appreciated both. And yes, there's even a crucial detail unwittingly held by one of the principals...
Veterans and newcomers alike deliver convincing performances, and the bonding between the Warrens and the Hodgson children is pleasantly established and earned, though the film does tend to lean rather heavily towards putting the Warrens on the side of the angels (if not saints) who can make demons cringe by merely holding up a small crucifix. It was also nice to see Franka Potenta (RUN LOLA RUN) in the role of the professional skeptic, even if her role ultimately leads to the 'false crisis' I wish the film had skipped altogether. Perhaps it's my own fault for making too much out of musical associations, but the second the Bee Gees hit the soundtrack I was suddenly back in the 80s watching PENN & TELLER GET KILLED and waiting impatiently for THE CONJURING 2 to find itself again and get back to the ending I knew was REALLY coming.
It does recover, and even though it can't quite regain the effect of the original (never mind ANABELLE, who makes a requisite cameo), THE CONJURING 2 still stand as a solid entry in the James Wan line-up... no matter what you think of the 'true' story.
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