Monday, June 13, 2016

In Theaters: THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by James Wan. Written by Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, James Wan and David Leslie Johnson. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Sterling Jerins, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Bob Adrian, Steve Coulter, Bonnie Aarons, Javier Botet, Joseph Bishara. (R, 134 mins)

Paranormal icons to some, fraudulent fundamentalist hucksters to others, the husband & wife ghostbusting team of Ed and Lorraine Warren made their name with their involvement in the investigation of the legendary Amityville house in the late 1970s (Lorraine is now 89; Ed died in 2006 at 79). As played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in James Wan's surprisingly terrific 2013 film THE CONJURING, the Warrens are an immensely likable couple with a deep-rooted sense of Christianity and family values, with Wan and the screenwriters never questioning their sincerity and legitimacy. Amityville has pretty much been debunked as a hoax for decades, but it still makes for entertaining cinema, and it provides a prologue for Wan's uneven sequel which, for a horror film, runs an epic length of well past two hours. While investigating the Amityville house in 1976, Lorraine saw the spectre of a demonic nun and had a premonition of Ed's death by impalement. She's further perturbed when Ed, unable to sleep, gets up and paints a picture of a face he saw in a dream--of course, it's the demon nun, though judging from the looks of it, it could've just as easily been a premonition of the coming of Marilyn Manson.

At Lorraine's insistence, Ed agrees to take time off from active pursuits of the paranormal and focus strictly on lecturing. Their altruism gets the better of them in late 1977 when the church asks them to travel overseas to Enfield in northern London, where Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor), a single, working-class mother of four, is dealing with an entity that makes its presence known to all in the house but seems to be specifically targeting her second child, 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe). It's a lot of the usual stuff: deep, guttural voices, levitation, and objects moving themselves, mixed with the usual loud crashes, piercing booms, and the sudden appearances of evil faces that's become Wan's go-to jump scare since the first INSIDIOUS. Ultimately, Janet is possessed by a demon who claims to be the home's elderly previous owner, bellowing "This is my house!" and demanding everyone get out, as the Warrens, British paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) and skeptical, cynical psychology professor Anita Gregory (Franka Potente) converge on the Hodgson home to determine the validity of "The Enfield Poltergeist."

The case attracted a lot of attention at the time, with the press referring to it as "the British Amityville." THE CONJURING 2 takes significant liberties with it, starting with the fact that this was largely Grosse's investigation, with his team doing most of the work related to it, while the Warrens had a significantly lesser role. The poltergeist targeted Janet and older sister Margaret (played here by Lauren Esposito), and both were caught red-handed staging occurrences. The film portrays one instance of Gregory catching Janet on film throwing chairs, breaking things, and bending spoons after locking herself in the kitchen to create the illusion of paranormal phenomena. Taking dramatic license to its limits, Wan and his screenwriters work Janet's rationale for doing so into a bigger event centered on the Warrens, who the film posits as being drawn into a mystery involving a more powerful force that's using the Hodgsons to target them. In other words, THE CONJURING 2 shoehorns the Enfield Poltergeist into a newly-concocted work of Ed & Lorraine Warren fan fiction. The Enfield case (covered in the 2015 British miniseries THE ENFIELD HAUNTING, with Timothy Spall as Grosse and no one as the Warrens since their characters aren't even in it) has been deemed a hoax by most investigators, though Grosse did feel it had some legitimacy. Taken on its own terms, THE CONJURING 2 isn't bad. It goes on far too long and there's only so many scary face-and-slamming door jump scares you can get hit with before it grows stale and repetitive. Wan does a great job with the period look and detail of the film, shooting it in drab, gray, muted tones indoors and a near-constant rain on the outside, really capturing the kind of gritty, '70s kitchen-sink British atmosphere that makes parts of this look like what might happen if Ken Loach or Mike Leigh made a demonic possession movie (bonus points for STARSKY & HUTCH superfan Margaret's wall adorned with David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser pics, faithfully recreated from actual 1977 file photos).

Wan also takes the approach of classics like THE EXORCIST and THE SHINING, letting the dread and tension build for over an hour and change before all hell breaks loose. Oddly, it's when all hell breaks loose that the film starts to feel draggy and uninspired, and the climax has some unintentional laughs that really diminish the impact. And speaking of unintentional laughs, whose idea was it to use the Bee Gees' "I Started a Joke" to underscore a dramatic plot turn in the most ham-fisted way possible? And the appearance of The Crooked Man (Guillermo del Toro contortionist Javier Botet, who had the title role in MAMA) would be a lot more effective if he didn't look like The Babadook's more sartorially flashy cousin. Wilson and Farmiga are quite appealing together (Wilson in particular is very likable, especially when he's bonding with the Elvis-loving Hodgson kids by playing his own acoustic take "Can't Help Falling in Love") and young Wolfe is excellent as the anguished Janet, giving it everything she's got as the demonic spirit's grip on her tightens. As far as Hollywood horror movies go these days, THE CONJURING 2 isn't bad, but between his two INSIDIOUS entries (the second was awful, and he didn't direct the third) and now two CONJURINGs, Wan does alright here but doesn't have much in the way of new tricks up his sleeve.

No comments:

Post a Comment