Sunday 4 December 2016

Review - The Conjuring 2: Satan finds a home in the suburbs

James Wan's horror yarn playfully evokes the exorcism craze of the 1970s

Paul Whitington

Published 18/06/2016 | 07:00

Spooked: Madison Wolfe, playing Janet Hodgson, is haunted by spirits in 'The Conjuring 2', based on the real-life events of the Enfield Haunting.
Spooked: Madison Wolfe, playing Janet Hodgson, is haunted by spirits in 'The Conjuring 2', based on the real-life events of the Enfield Haunting.

Back in the 1970s, Satan was all the rage. After the huge success of William Friedkin's 'Exorcist', people began getting possessed all over the place but especially in America, where priests and paranormal investigators were in urgent demand. The most famous of them were Ed and Lorraine Warran, a married couple who seem to have uncovered evil spirits wherever they went but are most closely associated with the Amityville Haunting.

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James Wan's jaunty sequel The Conjuring 2 begins in 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, where Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson), Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) and a team of paranormal types are trying to figure out why Ronald DeFeo Jr murdered his entire family with a rifle. Money, perhaps, profound psychological problems, or a grudge against his controlling father? Not at all - it was a spook, an evil spirit, which appears to Lorraine in the form of a grinning, hideous nun and proceeds to scare the sh*t out of her.

A few years later, in the summer of 1977, Lorraine begins experiencing vivid nightmares and daydreams in which she's pursued by the aforementioned nun and has grisly premonitions of Ed's death. She's trying to figure out why when a priest contacts the devoutly Catholic Warrens to ask for their help with a perplexing case.

In a modest council house in Enfield, north London, a single mother called Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) and her four children have been enduring a series of inexplicable events. Beds have moved, a chest of drawers has shot across a room, strange thumpings have been heard in the walls and 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe) claims to have been haunted by the malevolent spirit of an old man who died in the house and isn't keen on vacating it.

Ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine hitch a ride on a passing TWA flight and arrive in north London to find members of the gutter press nosing unhelpfully around, and a local psychic researcher called Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) already in situ.

It's a circus, and at first the Warrens can't decide whether the Enfield haunting is real or an elaborate, attention-seeking hoax. They're discouraged when an incident in the kitchen suggests that Janet and her older sister Margaret (Lauren Esposito) have faked the whole thing. But then Lorraine senses an old and terrifying enemy, and events spiral out of control.

Though best known for the extremely unpleasant 'Saw' franchise, James Wan is a keen student of horror who's since proven himself a cultured and capable director. The 2013 film that preceded this one was ever so slightly daft but a lot of fun, and Conjuring 2 takes up where that one left off.

At over two hours it's a little long, and suspension of disbelief is of course a prerequisite - the real Enfield Haunting sounds fishy, and Ed and Lorraine Warren had nothing whatsoever to do with it. But mostly it's a lot of fun, has refreshing undercurrents of wit and is packed with the kind of scares in which Mr Wan excels.

The comparison between 1970s America and London is hilarious. Sunlight flits through the Warrens' airy Connecticut home, and they themselves seem suffused with it. But Enfield is all third-world squalor, drab greys, peeling wallpaper, soggy tabloids and incessant rain which comes down relentlessly in sheets.

The locals are unhealthy looking (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Simon Delaney turn up as the Hodgsons' 'cockney' neighbours), and look as if they subsist on warm beer and cold chips, but Ed and Lorraine retain their Yankee sheen and float through the filth glowing messianically.

Mr Wan uses his effects sparingly and cleverly, and suggests a lot more than we ever see - always the key in good horror. And if the story is a bit thin, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are thoroughly winning as the Warrens: somehow, they seem like a real couple, and their unfussy affection grounds a film that might easily have been overwhelmed by paranormal nonsense.

Films coming soon...

Independence Day: Resurgence (Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman); Elvis & Nixon (Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon); The Secret Life of Pets (Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan); The Meddler (Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne); Suburra (Elio Germano)

The Conjuring 2

(15A, 134mins)

3 stars

Irish Independent

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