Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 2, a respectable follow-up to 2013s The Conjuring. What helps both films rise above most other paranormal-based films lie in these two characters, who act as the ground for the incidents they investigate.
The Warren’s, unlike a lot of fictional paranormal investigators, aren’t your typical excitable ghost hunters. For starters, They’re rooted in reality and aren’t necessarily believers to the core — they understand there’s more out there than what science itself can prove, but aren’t willing to play the role people expect of them just to appease a family who believes they are being haunted. It isn’t about money for them; it’s about helping people who truly need it, and that means digging up hard evidence, playing skeptic in the meantime. This idea creates enough tension beyond what we want to believe and what’s shown as “fact” (or truth) revolving around the mysterious hauntings and demon possessions that these types of characters sometimes exploit for their own personal gain, or that the director (or writer, for that matter) use to try and raise the dramatic stakes. It makes it even more interesting knowing that Ed and Lorraine Warren aren’t even the main characters of their own stories, even though the films make it seem they are.
This time around, Ed and Lorraine are tasked by the church with finding out if there’s any truth to the claim that a daughter (Madison Wolfe) in North London is being haunted, attacked and occasionally possessed by a spirit. For us, the viewer, there is plenty of evidence to convince the family (including a couple of brothers (Benjamin Haigh and Patrick McAuley) and an older sister (Lauren Esposito)) that the spooks are real, and the way in which director James Wan directs his vision is unique for the genre. Though the scares themselves and the way the tension is built isn’t anything ground breaking — the ghouls in question begin by toying with the family, only to grow more powerful as the movie progresses to start causing real havoc — Wan is smart enough to speed that process up double-time to get us to a point where the incidents aren’t just moving a chair, but throwing couches against windows to keep people out of the house as the entity makes their final play toward their ultimate task.
The most interesting aspect of it all comes down to Wan’s ability to keep the tension tight while making sure he doesn’t lose the idea that the entire thing just may be a sham after all. The incident in question happened right after the highly-chronicled Amityville haunting (itself a major piece of cinematic history), so it’s highly possible that the family is making the whole thing up, possibly to move to a nicer neighborhood after a very heated break-up. At the very least, they may believe something is happening even if it isn’t. Wan brings in a secondary paranormal debunker (Franka Potente), but doesn’t give her all that much to do but witness an act of destruction that was supposedly done by the demon, but is actually performed by the daughter in question. It’s an important moment in the film, though, because now there’s a big chance that Wan just may be ready to pull the rug out from under us as we wait for the demon to finally be revealed.
It helps that the actors do a very convincing job to keep everything authentic and in the moment. As the subject of the entities wrath, the movie hinges on Wolfe’s performance. If she fails, so does the movie. Luckily, she pulls it off without a hitch, appearing very innocent, likeable and relateble, but can become as creepy as hell on the turn of a dime. I also liked that the mother (Frances O’Connor) was smart enough to get the kids out of the house after witnessing a dresser fly across the girls’s bedroom. But that’s just another example of how this film differentiates itself from other haunted house stories (which includes it’s predecessor, the movie I affectionately dub “The Clap Movie” based on the original trailer for that film).
It’s easy to go either way on believing whether the haunting this family experienced is real, especially when certain things that happen are questionable enough for the Warren’s themselves to disprove them as coincidence or a manifestation of the psyche. When Wolfe’s character gets trapped in a room locked from the outside, you have to wonder: did the events happen exactly as they were portrayed in the film? I’ve never read the case files, I’ve never met the Warren’s and whose to say Hollywood didn’t add some juice to the point to give it some extra flavor. But does it really matter? In the long run, no it doesn’t. So long as the filmmakers entertain us with a compelling story, good acting and a strong finish, I’m all in. And The Conjuring 2 accomplishes just that.
My Grade: A
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