For as high-class a ghost story as it was, there’s still no denying that the scale of The Conjuring‘s critical and commercial acclaim back in 2013 was a little unexpected. Three years later comes the inevitable sequel, and the Warrens are back, questionable sideburns and all, as James Wan (Saw, Insidious, Furious 7) returns to the director’s chair for another cut from their extensive real-life case files. Focusing this time on the famous 1970s British case of The Enfield Poltergeist, it’s a slickly executed follow-up that, despite its flaws, probably tops the original.
Clocking in at a positively titanic 135 minutes, The Conjuring 2 spends its first hour alternating between two storylines. Firstly, in London, we have increasingly sinister goings-on plaguing the Hodgson family’s Enfield council estate home, while elsewhere, we focus on the new-found fame of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) in America. The decision to leave the two narratives unassimilated for so long is a bold one, but it’s easy to see the wisdom in it. Giving us time to invest in the Warrens at a level beyond the superficial means that some of the more intimate moments we see in their relationship later on carry a little more weight, and running this parallel to the Enfield haunting means that Wan never has to skimp on the scares while the film’s emotional foundation is being built.
Eventually, though, word of the Hodgsons’ situation reaches the Warrens, and they make the journey to England to kick off their investigation. The Hodgson family are sympathetically portrayed, and anchored by a suitably emotionally fragile performance from Frances O’Connor as mother Peggy. She believes her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe, True Detective, Trumbo) is possessed, seemingly by the ghost of an elderly man called Bill Wilkins. The scenes that evidence this are largely effective, mostly steering clear of melodramatic or unintentionally comedic territory through a combination of Wolfe’s committed display as Janet and Wan’s unrivalled gift for in-camera scares.
Only in its final twenty minutes and its overly bombastic final set piece does The Conjuring 2 start to feel its length, and while the sentimentality on display during some of this may alienate some, its steadfast commitment to fleshing out its characters sets it out from the pack. Better still, The Conjuring 2 boasts two of the year’s most memorably unnerving antagonists (special mention in particular to The Crooked Man, who provides the film with it’s most unsettling sequence), and with a raft of convincing performances, some genuinely effective scares and Wan’s reliably sure-footed direction, this will probably be remembered as one of 2016’s best wide-release horror movies.