When it came to the paranormal, Ed and Lorraine Warren were the people to call. These two demonologists, and agents of the Catholic Church, found themselves attached to many supernatural cases including The Amityville Haunting, an event that made several headlines at the time and continues to live on in infamy in a several feature films and TV movies.
Critics of the Warrens decry their work as a hoax, while many remain steadfast in their beliefs: the Devil is real and demons walk among us.
This time around the Devil has taken two forms: Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), an old man who died in the house that the Hodgsons now reside in, and a Demonic Nun (Bonnie Aarons) who haunts both Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren. The Warrens are no stranger to demonic presences, but Lorraine had a premonition of Ed’s death in connection with the Nun and is positively spooked.
The Conjuring 2, the follow-up to the massively successful — $318 million from a $20 mil budget — and formally astute Conjuring from 2013, is based on The Enfield Poltergeist or, as the marketing material touts, “the most documented case in paranormal history.”
The matriarch of the family, Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) is trying desperately to keep her head above financial waters, but her house is falling apart, her stuttering son (Benjamin Haigh) is being bullied at school and her deadbeat husband left long ago, taking the records with him. Life isn’t easy for Peggy and her house is anything but warm and welcoming — even non-believers would deem it spooky — which makes her and her family an easy target for possession. As Ed tells her, the Devil likes to kick you when you’re down.
Ghost Wilkins spooks the family in the usual manner: noises, lights flickering, inanimate objects moving unmotivated, TV trouble, etc. But when Ghost Wilkins takes possession of little Janet (Madison Wolfe), the Church calls the Warrens in to investigate and possibly help. Lorraine hesitates, but Ed, ever the savior, answers the call to adventure and sticks both of them in harm’s way.
For The Conjuring 2, director James Wan retains his writing partners (Carey and Chad Hayes), production designer (Julie Berghoff) and editor (Kirk M. Morri) from the previous installment and continues the best parts of the first movie. By adding cinematographer Don Burgess — whose constantly roving, swirling camera moves indiscriminately through solid objects — Wan turns The Conjuring 2 into a good-looking, visually-inventive world with a lived-in feel.
Though The Conjuring 2 has plenty of scares, it is hampered by a long and somewhat rambling set-up. The first hour tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to continue the Warren’s burden while setting up the Hodgson’s predicament. As Ghost Wilkins works his terror in London, the Warrens wonder about the mystery of the Demonic Nun in New England. As anyone watching may suspect, the two will come together in a spectacular payoff. They do, and when they do, it is quite something. A pity it took so long to get there.
But pacing isn’t the only aspect of The Conjuring 2 that distracts from the overall experience. The Devil, and in this case, is a profoundly Catholic one. Which means that only the Church — here, a prayer, a crucifix and some timely knowledge — can vanquish it. The victims must also be Catholic, for their minds must be open to the idea that the Devil is real and walks among us. Indeed, when the shit hits the fan, Peggy nails crucifixes all over the walls.
But what if the victims were non-believers? How would they interpret all this? And, for as powerful and terrifying as the Devil seems, why can’t it do more than make the lights flicker, knock the furniture about and take possession of a helpless little girl? Why doesn’t the Devil have bigger game in its sights? Maybe a politician, or Broadway actor, or a banker who has already sold his soul down the river for a few pieces of silver?
No, the Devil inhabits cute little Janet in the same way that it held Regan in The Exorcist. The Devil isn’t merely a manifestation of all that is unholy in the world, but also of a young girl’s burgeoning sexuality. Spend anytime in the Catholic Church and you realize that that is what they truly fear.