What does any of the stuff we see in these movies have to do with conjuring, either in the sense of magic tricks or the summoning or binding of a spirit through ritual means, I wondered.
After all, it’s not like the hapless victims of either film in the series asked for any of this s**t to happen to them, or went out of their way to look for poltergeists and demons to turn their lives into nightmares.
Ah, but then I learned there is an archaic meaning of the word “conjure”, and that is “to implore”. And if nothing else, both of James Wan’s entries in the series are about people whose situations desperately beg for help.
Whatever regard you may have for real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, from whose files these Conjuring movies are drawn, the screen-deep reality is that Wan and his actors have made them a real stand-up couple.
After watching their struggles in the first film, we’re now invested not only in the well-being of the victims, but also of these two individuals who put their own lives on the line when other people’s hopeless circumstances conjure them to help.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have inhabited the roles successfully, thanks to their heartfelt performances and Wan’s crafty storytelling choices in the original that made us see them as more than just standard “movie psychics”. Hey, how many movie psychics/paranormal investigators do you know who sing Can’t Help Falling In Love to terrified haunting victims, or fix their leaking faucets? (This being a James Wan film, be assured that there are sinister consequences.)
Anyway, as a result of the movie-Warrens being so gosh-darn likeable, we can’t help but be drawn in even when the film opens with their take on the controversial Amityville Horror, target of many debunking attempts.
The real focus of this sequel, however, is across The Pond, on the Enfield Haunting that took place in a London borough from 1977 to 1979 (and like Amityville, also the focus of much scepticism).
In a small council house in Enfield, single mother Penny Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four young children are constantly terrorised by a poltergeist-like entity calling itself Bill. In particular, it seems to be targeting her second child, 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe).
Long story (2 hours 13 minutes, but you hardly feel it) short, the case becomes a media sensation, the Warrens get involved, and Lorraine realises to her horror that it somehow has ties to visions she started having while investigating the Amityville house.
After helming two Insidious and two Conjuring movies, and all those Saw flicks, Wan has honed a fine talent for building up tension and then sending us reeling from the impact when his big jump scare arrives.
The Conjuring 2 has no shortage of these, ratcheting up our sense of foreboding before slamming us back in our seats with a good mix of both arbitrary jolts and horrifying revelations.
Sure, the Constant Viewer (sorry, Stephen King) would know to anticipate a lot of this already. You could say that (Obi) Wan has trained us well, though some of us might be wishing that the man would assemble a new bag of tricks already.
But he still has a knack for knowing how to reach us deep down with stuff that plays on our subconscious and rattles us, or makes us deeply uncomfortable (case in point, a scene in which the young victim appears to be folded up into a tiny space).
And now, you can add one more item to his arsenal: caring.
Aside from the viewer being quite invested in the Warrens’ welfare, for some reason, I found the Hodgsons much more sympathetic than the Perrons from the first movie.
Much of the credit for that has to go to Madison’s (True Detective) finely-wrought performance as the primary victim of the haunting. Possession stories are frequently seen as a metaphor for child abuse, and the scene where Janet talks to Lorraine about the things she misses, the happiness she’s lost from being unable to just do everyday things, is understated yet heart-rending.
Because of how well Wan and his collaborators (both in front of and behind the camera) have drawn us into these characters’ lives, then, the rain-soaked finale becomes that much more urgent, even if it’s packed with horror tropes that simultaneously excite and infuriate us.
And maybe that’s where the other meaning of “conjuring” comes in, the great magic trick that keeps us riveted, spellbound and coming back for more. For sure, there’s no shortage of material in the Warrens’ archives for many future movies that we Constant Viewers will, no doubt, be lining up to catch. No imploring necessary.
The Conjuring 2
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente