Nothing succeeds like success, and nobody ever let the truth get in the way of a good story. Released in 2013 and billed as being “based on the true case files” of notorious paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, despite being overlong and overwrought the The Conjuring made over ten times its modest budget, leading inevitably to both the hugely derivative and painfully unoriginal spinoff Annabelle and now a direct sequel, The Enfield Case, inspired by one of the most reported cases of alleged haunting in the British isles.
With the real Warrens having been described as “a pair of two-bit charlatans (who will) only use you for notoriety, for their own purposes” by the Perron family whose experiences informed the first film, those hoping for a sober and well-judged representation of the allegedly poltergeist activity which plagued the Hodgson household of Brimsdown in North London between 1977 and 1979 will not so much be disappointed as guilty of foolishly misguided optimism in the first place.
Opening with a brief visitation to the Warren’s most famous involvement, the Amityville investigation where it is undisputed that Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr murdered six members of his family in November 1974 before the alleged haunting of the next residents of 112 Ocean Avenue, in keeping with their modus operandi of self-promotion it is immediately made clear that neither the DeFeo nor the Lutz families were the ultimate targets of the demonic forces but the Warrens themselves, an idea that will be further expanded in another spinoff now in development, The Nun.
With an anachronistic digital opening shot passing through a window which couldn’t have been achieved in the period depicted, the film immediately feels artificial, the demonic puppeting of DeFeo coming across as comical mime rather than sinister, and replete with a séance, possession, ghosts in mirrors and physical forces manifesting before the titles have even rolled it feels less like atmosphere and more like an assault.
Summoned to England, the change of style heralded by The Clash’s London Calling actually benefits the film as the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their roles) are requested to look into the case of eleven year old Janet Hodgson (Devil’s Due‘s Madison Wolfe) who has been sleepwalking and suffering recurring nightmares since she and her sisters created “a spirit board” through which Janet claims to have contacted a former resident who still regards the house as his territory.
Directed by James Wan and set in a typical hotbed of poltergeist activity of teenage girls and stress at home, The Conjuring 2 recreates some of the documented interviews but exaggerates them greatly, and while it addresses the questions raised over some of the photographic evidence of “levitation” it sidesteps the established fact the incidents were proven by contemporary investigators to have been faked by conveniently claiming it was demons who forced the children to stage them.
Similarly, a televised confrontation shows Ed Warren being challenged but cuts before the issue is addressed satisfactorily, and with the veracity of the Amityville haunting and Lorraine’s powers “established” earlier the film presents an increasingly disingenuous narrative. The inverted crosses bring in aspects of Satanism perhaps in order to emulate TheExorcist, topical in the late seventies but out of place here and as tiresome as the mentality that it’s always the Christians who are the victims and the Bible which can guide and protect them.
The transatlantic differences are clear, America in bright colours while Britain is washed out and grey, a kitchen sink drama of suburban deprivation, and the most interesting aspect of the film is the contrast between the affluent American households and the Hodgsons, a single parent family struggling with money, mother Peggy (Mr Selfridge‘s Frances O’Connor) having to give up cigarettes to afford a packet of biscuits for her children.
With a picture of Joanna Lumley on the bedroom wall, The New Avengers having been broadcast in the period in which the film is set, the period recreation feels more authentic than the first film but it’s overly slow and stilted, scenes going on far past when they have established their point, the opening already having bent the structure out of shape and 134 minutes being a ridiculous length for a film of this nature.
The children are good as is O’Connor and the individual moments work effectively but an hour into the film it is still establishing and developing when it should be getting ready to wrap up; by the time it is crawling towards the two hour mark it spins off another hurdle for the Warrens to jump, and becoming downright hysterical in order to compete with Poltergeist and rewriting whatever history is needed in order to do so, like the endless hurled crockery and the slamming doors it just becomes tiresome noise.
The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case is currently on general release