“There’s a case in Long Island he’d like to discuss.”
In James Wan’s The Conjuring, this last line spoken by Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) to her husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) alludes to the couple’s most famous (and most filmed) paranormal investigation at Amityville. In fact, Farmiga had originally said ‘in London’, conjuring the similarly oft filmed Enfield Poltergeist case – but as the Warrens were less well known for this, the line was changed in post-production.
Now Wan’s The Conjuring 2 offers the best of both worlds. It opens in Amityville, with Lorraine, in a séance-induced trance, seeing not just the entities haunting the Lutz home, but also experiencing a premonition of Ed’s death at the hands of a demonic nun. Worried for her husband, Lorraine decides to quit all spiritual interventions, but reluctantly agrees to investigate the Enfield case, albeit as an observer only.
Whatever has possessed the Hodgson family – and in particular 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe) – may not be quite what it seems, no matter whether that is the ‘Crooked Man’ of chldren’s song brought to terrifying life, the cantankerous spirit of a previous occupant (Bob Adrian), or just the psychic fallout of a broken home. The views of the Enfield haunting’s many debunkers are certainly aired within The Conjuring 2 – but Wan invites us to see things as Lorraine does, and to share Ed’s immense faith in her visions.
The reward for this suspended belief is a series of expertly managed frights in which Wan shows off his skills – and repeatedly wrongfoots the viewer – in a variety of horror modes, from ghost motifs to exorcism tropes, and from Babadook-style mind monsters to vicious demons.
In Wan’s world, the supernatural always trumps the rational – but deep down this is as much love story as spooky tale, and if the devil usually gets the best tunes, wait till you hear Wilson, possessed benignly by the spirit of Elvis, singing a cover version of Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.