There are two ways of beating a spirit as per this sequel to the hit of 2013. One, be a Christian. Two, have good neighbours, who will take you in when even the Church won’t and, more importantly, let you stay on.
The third would be ensuring media coverage, to draw in the paranormal-researcher couple Ed and Lorraine Warren. But, really, what are the chances of that not happening?
Even more laden with messages of the Church, God, Bible and Cross than The Conjuring — Margaret Thatcher’s Iron Lady speech, taking on Communism, is also deployed in passing — this film finds the Warrens caught up in a tragedy that has been dubbed England’s “Amityville”.
A single mother of four, Peggy (O’Connor) is struggling to make ends meet when strange things start happening around her house, almost all of them centred around her younger daughter Janet (Wolfe).
A voice of an old man keeps telling them to leave, as “it is my house”, which makes one wonder why they don’t, at least for a while. Specifically questioned on this by an expert (played by McBurney), the voice answers, “I just love to hear them scream.” He even introduces himself as a previous owner who died of nothing bloodier than a haemorrhage.
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That doesn’t sound like a particularly malevolent spirit, especially if left alone. But what would happen to horrors if people heeded saner thoughts? Like not go opening doors which are being pounded upon, or investigating play tents with strange noises coming from within.
So, all of that, and more, happens, even as the Warrens of New England, US, take a very, very long time making their way to the house of Peggy and her children in London.
Even there, Wan, who so expertly paced his horror in The Conjuring, portraying a loving family and then playing on our most basic fears as a mother turning on her child, lets it all fizzle out, including over maudlin details such as “celebrating Christmas together like family” — though that shouldn’t surprise given the general feel of the film. That is not for lack of effort on part of the actors, especially O’Connor and Wolfe who have you rooting for them from the first few moments of their struggling, and non-ghostly, family life. Wan also again beautifully frames a normal, run-down house as a warren of possible horrors.
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At one point, Ed Warren (Wilson) breaks into the Elvis number Can’t Help Falling in Love With You (though he is not bad), as Lorraine (Farmiga) looks on adoringly. The fact that she has been having a premonition, predating this case, of Ed’s death at the hands of a ghost that looks like a cross between a nun and Ozzy Osbourne is meant to lend that moment a particularly poignant touch.
That nun/nut keeps popping up at various times, and The Conjuring 2 does an unsatisfying work of tying it up with the rest of the story. Much as it does with explaining why Peggy and family keep putting themselves in harm’s way, even as all logic dictates otherwise, or why the Warrens go about solving or not solving the mystery the way they do.
But really, as Ed flashes out the Cross yet again during the film, you just have to sympathise with what the bad spirit tells him once. Asked by Ed whether he doesn’t want to “cross over”, the spirit says, with a pause, “Maybe, I am not a Heaven man.”
Yes, pray, what of us?
Directed by James Wan
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’ Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney