Horror is always subjective. Different themes and atmospheres scare us and that’s cool, but we can all agree on one thing: good horror provokes the senses.
Since Saw, James Wan has been a prevalent director for the horror genre. His newie, The Conjuring 2 brings back the legit ghost hunters Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson), a real life documented couple said to have inspired The Amityville Horror. Changing things up we are taken to London, England 1977. Wan provides footage of what looks like a YouTube mash up of The Clash’s London Calling, Bobbies, riots and loads of Dr Martens. A single mother runs the new haunted family based on, again a real life story, the Enfield Poltergeist.
Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’ Connor) and her four children Janet (Madison Wolfe), Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Billy (Benjamin Haigh) and Johnny (Patrick McAuley) evoke a very The Exorcist and The Babadook feel. Things are tough, money is tight but they’re still a loving household. When Janet, the main and youngest child, shows Margaret a ouija board that she so haphazardly keeps under her bed, it doesn’t take long before the spirits arrive. Sometimes the family members believe each other, sometimes not, but soon enough each member experiences the same situation.
There is another sub plot that connects the Warrens to this British household and the poltergeist itself; this part is a little different to Wan’s first installment, The Conjuring, in that it is satirical. Approaching the Warrens as a postmodern phenomenon is actually the part I enjoyed the most.
Going back to the senses, Wan does get you on board. But too often he gives you the answers and tells you how to feel (insert screeching violins). The way to look at his films, not that one should pigeonhole, is in the same vein as a Michael Bay flick. Wan’s films are high production horror extravaganzas. This may suit some, but to the discerning eye, horror feels ‘right’ when it has a lower budget and leaves you with a sense of something else. A film that instantly springs to mind is Night of the Living Dead. Through its grimy lenses, George A. Romero lets the viewers explore and suffer for themselves.
Credit must be given; concentrating on the Enfield Poltergeist gives the film a hoity-toity-Benny-Hill vibe and somehow the English backdrop adds authority. It mimicks roots of early British or Hammer Horror origins and makes the horror, the characters, and the household more authentic. Adding to this, the ensemble works well, even if the characters conveniently sway between beliefs. However, a lot of conventional horror falls into this trap and it can be really frustrating. Wilson and Farmiga may have added to the familiarity of the first, but not much else. The most interesting one to watch here is Wolfe; she is a convincing mix of innocence and demonic, very Regan (Linda Blair). It makes Wolfe quite a problematic character. This is paired beautifully with O’Connor’s battling but ballsy demeanor, and makes the film very feminine.
When it boils down to it, some of these natural moments are swallowed by noise or too much attention to the look. You get the impression that Wan is saying this is one hell of a scary film but really, it isn’t.
The Conjuring 2 is in cinemas from 9th June through Roadshow Films.