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The Conjuring 2 review: Terrorises one moment, and provokes laughter the next

Entertaining, occasionally nerve-juddering and often laughable horror movie, set in north London in the late 1970s

Geoffrey Macnab
Tuesday 14 June 2016 14:57 BST
(Matt Kennedy)

James Wan, 133 mins, starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente

It rains a lot in Enfield. That’s one of the main conclusions to be drawn from this entertaining, occasionally nerve-juddering and often laughable horror movie, set in north London in the late 1970s.

In terms of its plotting, The Conjuring 2 is downright ludicrous. Loosely inspired by the “true” story of the Enfield Poltergeist, the film offers a quaintly American view of 70s British pop culture. It is set in 1977 but the filmmakers use music from 1979 (the Clash’s "London Calling") and footage of Margaret Thatcher on television to set the scene.

The main location is a council house in which Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) lives with her kids. Her husband has skedaddled, taking the Elvis Presley LPs with him. She is so skint that she can’t even afford to buy her two daughters biscuits to eat when they get home from school.

The girls have Starsky and Hutch and Bay City Roller posters on their walls and even one of footballer Kevin Keegan in his prime. They seem like normal, mischievous kids, even if they do play with a ouija board. The youngest daughter Janet, who is 11, is Enfield’s answer to Linda Blair. It’s through her that the demon - a disgruntled pensioner called Bill who died in the house - communicates his displeasure to the world. Whenever evil is afoot, the weather worsens and the washing machine breaks down.

The goings-on in Britain cause such a stir that the church sends American ghostbusters Ed Warren and his wife Lorraine (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) to see if the evil is for real. They’re still traumatised by the events at Amityville a few years before and are frustrated that their paranormal research is mocked by the media. Both are haunted by visions of a nun with a hideous rictus grin. Lorraine complains that she has been “close to hell”- but that is before she arrives in Ponders End EN3.

Director James Wan (whose earlier credits include Saw and Insidious as well as the first Conjuring movie) is a modern master at making horror movies with the momentum of fairground ghost train rides. He knows just how to use music, sound, voice-over, sudden edits, subliminal flashbacks, and grotesque close-ups to induce a sense of terror.

He is shameless in his borrowing. The film lifts ideas and motifs not just from such obvious sources as The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist but also from such recent films as Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, which also used kids’ rhymes, toys, and storybook figures to heighten the sense of dread.

The Conjuring 2 Clip - Voice On The Tape

Early on, the shock tactics are effective in making the audience jump. What isn’t clear is why the evil spirit is picking on poor Janet or what links her trials with those that the Warrens have endured in the past. It is also very hard to tell whether the film is intended to be at least partly tongue in cheek. Two very gormless British police officers come to the haunted council house.

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They see the poltergeist in action, causing furniture to shoot across rooms. Their reaction to the horror is wonderfully matter of fact. “I think this is a bit beyond us,” they say and leave the poor family to suffer. Simon McBurney’s performance as the extravagantly moustached British paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse is disconcerting too. McBurney plays him as if he is a character from a 70s sitcom like Fawlty Towers.

A flame-haired academic (Franka Potente) is very sceptical about the haunting, hinting that the whole affair may simply be a hoax to help the Hodgson family secure better housing or that Janet is projecting her anxiety about her family circumstances. Even the Warrens have their doubts.

The Conjuring 2 terrorises you one moment and provokes your laughter the next. The saving grace here is the slickness. The sheer conviction with which Wan and his team tackle their story help disguise how silly it really is.

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