The rooms where we sleep
Or attempt to count sheep
Were once home to others whose presence runs deep.
The bodies they wore
May not breathe anymore,
But tormented souls may demand an encore.
These lingerers, led
By the master of dread,
Can pester our peace and plant fears in our head.
May we not forget
He Who makes demons sweat
Is on our side, giving them reason to fret.
MPAA rating: R
Anyone who’s read my few horror reviews knows that I’m picky about the genre, with a low tolerance for gore and high admiration for developed characters, tension, and atmosphere. The Conjuring fit my tastes perfectly, with an exceptionally creepy story highlighted by strong performances and a positive religious message. The 2016 sequel, also directed by James Wan, may be more of the same, but that’s not a bad thing when it upholds what made the original great.
While the frightening opening involves the infamous Amityville house namedropped at the end of the first film, The Conjuring 2 focuses on the less-known (at least in America) Enfield Poltergeist. The Hodgsons, headed by single mother of four Peggy (Frances O’Connor), seem like a perfectly normal, if struggling, family, and there’s little unusual about their London home, again explored with one of those skillful tracking shots Wan employed to introduce the first film’s haunted house. Before long, though, eleven-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe) becomes the central target of many otherworldly events, including instances of possession, and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are asked by the Catholic Church to look into it, at their own peril.
As with its predecessor, I suspect the R rating is for sheer intensity because the film relies on mood and suspense far more than violence. A child’s zoetrope about the Crooked Man becomes the haunted object of the week, taking the place of the first film’s music box, and even if it’s not clear who or what the Crooked Man is a manifestation of, he’s an effective boogeyman for a few scenes. A demonic nun is also an unnerving presence throughout, though I’m not a fan of that kind of blasphemous imagery, even if it is explained.
The haunting of the Hodgson home is full of dark tension and jump scares, all well-executed, but it’s not the encroaching evil that sets The Conjuring films apart. As with the first movie, the Warrens are the best thing about this series. In the midst of demonic terror, they are a testament to the conquering power of God and their mutual love, plus a spirit of joy epitomized in a musical scene that becomes an island of light amid the darkness. When Ed converses with an old man’s ghost who speaks through Janet, he refuses to be cowed and sends the ghost shrinking away by confidently extending a crucifix. From their separate conversations with Janet, the Warrens’ devotion to each other is unmistakable, and after the nail-biting finale, this horror movie almost changes genre to end on a rare feel-good romantic note, at Christmastime no less.
With the Hodgsons as the sympathetic victims and the Warrens as the godly defenders, The Conjuring 2 again places its horror movie tropes into the context of spiritual warfare, and as strong as the demons seem, it’s still satisfying to see them banished to hell by the name of Jesus. It’s not surprising that the film takes rampant liberties with the actual story, but I liked how they incorporated some doubt about the authenticity of the haunting, since many skeptics claim that the girls faked the paranormal phenomena. The Conjuring 2 may seem like old hat to horror aficionados, but for me, it’s an example of a trend of spiritually and emotionally mindful horror that Hollywood should keep following.
Best line: (skeptic Anita Gregory) “Last year I was conned by a Welsh family pretending to be possessed by demons. And honestly, I don’t know what was worse: the demons or the people who prey on our willingness to believe in them.” (Lorraine) “The demons… are worse.”
Rank: List-Worthy (joining the first film)
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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