The Conjuring 2: Not enough horror at the Hodgson’s

The Conjuring (2013) was quite a surprise. It was a modern horror film with little VFX. It was a ghost film with little gore. It was a fairly superficial film, but with inventive, even ingenious, jump scares. It was a haunted house story but with more than one point of view. It was an exorcism story but the exorcists, the Warrens, were relatable and rather unusually vulnerable too. All this conspired to, er, conjure the biggest surprise of all: a record-breaking success. The film has attained cult status and even come to be revered as a modern classic; perhaps a fitting tribute considering how director James Wan was influenced by old horror classics in the first place.

To a large extent, The Conjuring 2 remains mindful of all this. In form and content, it is largely similar. For the Warrens (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who retain their roles as protagonists and exorcists in this film, this is another case, another family to save, another demon to vanquish.

The trailer’s here .

But Lorraine (Farmiga) disagrees at the beginning that this is simply yet another sequel. “This one, this one still haunts me,” she says. The Warrens are reluctant participants: Lorraine’s terrifying vision of her husband Ed being killed makes her unwilling to accept new cases. But of course, just like the hero in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (Hero’s Journey), in this case, heroes, the Warrens embark on their adventure after their initial reluctance. The place to be investigated this time is the Hodgson residence in London.

While Lorraine may claim that this case still haunts her, for a large stretch of the film, you aren’t quite sure why. The nocturnal happenings are, after all, the usual. Mysterious knocking. Television channels switching automatically. The bedsheet getting yanked. Crosses in the house getting inverted. A ball being rolled back from the dark. Save for a couple of jump scares, none of these are novel or alarming. Demonical possession, as explained by the Warrens in the first part, is diligently followed by the resident evil spirit: infestation, oppression, possession.

Genre: Horror
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor
Runtime: 134 minutes

There’s even something in the mould of that creepy wind-up toy that was used in The Conjuring; in this film, it is backed by recitations of the old English rhyme, ‘There was a crooked man’. Don’t be surprised if, like the Annabelle doll, The Crooked Man gets his own movie.

Though there’s a twist at the end concerning the identity of the demon, the film is bogged down by large unmemorable portions that hardly make you sit up. The Conjuring may have gotten away with its over-reliance on jump scares, but the sequel gets exposed. It doesn’t take long before you realise that the film needed to be much more than just another case from the Warren stable.

But James Wan’s inspiration from horror classics still shows. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn with The Exorcist, especially. There’s a single mother, there’s a vulnerable daughter, there’s the evil spirit that talks in a baritone through the tender vocal chords of a girl, and at the end, there’s even a shattered window through which an exorcist falls. And all of this could have potentially worked, if only the film had released three years ago and been called The Conjuring. In a sense, its predecessor is its villain.

Ironically, the parts I most enjoyed were ones that had nothing to do with the demon or its banishment. There’s a great scene when Wan temporarily lightens up the murkiness of it all by having Ed (Wilson) play the guitar at the Hodgson residence. In another scene, one of the men investigating the case expresses his hope that the Hodgsons aren’t bluffing about the demonic activity. If it were all real, it’d mean that life did exist after death, and this would mean everything in the world to this man, who has lost a daughter. Also, for a large part of the film, you’re left to debate if the whole thing is a hoax being staged by the Hodgsons for cheap publicity. Right at the beginning, a man on live television even questions the repute of the Warrens themselves. It’s these little asides I enjoyed immensely in The Conjuring 2.

But that’s a bit like finding the romance portions in an action film enjoyable. If the cake itself isn’t particularly tasty, of what significance is the delicious icing?

 This review was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.
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