THE CONJURING always felt like a (very good) pilot for a long running Hollywood franchise, and the swiftly generated sequel fittingly opens with an extended nod to a key inspiration, following the Warrens’ harrowing experience at the infamous Amityville house. Considering retirement from the paranormal as a result, the Warrens are instead drawn into the experiences of a divorced mother (Frances O’Connor) and her four children at their Enfield council house, where violent poltergeist activity has evolved into apparent possession of the youngest daughter (Madison Wolfe).
Defined as “Britain’s Amityville”, the Enfield case has already inspired a TV mini-series (“The Enfield Haunting”) and significant portions of the excellent WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT and GHOSTWATCH. Director James Wan recreates a suitably dreary and oppressive late 70’s London, characterised by permanently overcast skies, dismal interiors and ineffectual authorities with no answers for a family in terror. The widescreen frame immerses us in this increasingly traumatic homestead, with witty use of period detail: this might be the only horror film in history to stage a false fright involving a poster of contemporary heartthrob David Soul. The first hour is particularly strong as we become aware of the invasive presence, and both O’Connor (garnering sympathy without patronising anyone) and Wolfe are terrific as mother and daughter; the more explicit, CG-enhanced frights of the latter stages are less compelling. It’s overlong by as much as half an hour, with too many endings, too many over-familiar “experts” and a strain of old-fashioned Hollywood corniness that extends to one of the fluffiest horror movie endings of recent times. Still, the charisma of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga generates goodwill, and the movie more than delivers on its promise of jolts and scares in its often jarring portrait of a well-documented case.
Review by Steven West