70s London: Single mother Frances O’Connor is helpless when her daughter (Madison Wolfe) appears to be possessed by a demon. Enter the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) all the way from America to get to the bottom of things.
I gave the first “Conjuring” a mildly favourable review, but I felt it completely undercut any tension or terror with its split narrative. Every cut-away to the Warrens before they were properly integrated into the main story worked against the purpose of a horror film. The individual scenes were all well-done, it just wasn’t as effective as it could’ve been had there been a more linear narrative. Well, here’s the 2016 sequel from director/co-writer James Wan (“Saw”, “Insidious”, “The Conjuring”) and damn it, no one has learned a thing. And that’s a shame.
I liked some of this a lot more than the first film, but because it suffers from the same issues and it’s the second time around, I have to be much tougher on it. The fact that it’s more than 2 hours long doesn’t help, either. Also not helping things is the film’s dubious prologue. By dubious I mean that it’s set in 1976 and presents us with a very familiar house and a very familiar BS story: The Lutz family’s time in the Amityville house. We all now know that the Lutz’s were con artists, and while it’s just used as a prologue here, it’s still a film that associates itself with a bullshit story for a film about two real-life people whose exploits are already rather questionable. So I was immediately put offside by the film.
Thankfully, things eventually move to the UK, with a rather clichéd use of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’, but also with the lovely roving camerawork of Don Burgess immediately impressing and putting the audience at a certain discomfort. The low-level lighting is really nice, too. Having such young protagonists is a nice change too, and I was primed for a good scary movie. Well, there was the issue of one very poor piece of casting to contend with: Aussie actress Frances O’Connor is a surprisingly appalling detriment to the film with her completely unconvincing attempt at a lower-class English accent. She comes off like a Sally Hawkins impersonator, and the real thing is already irritating enough. Wan really needed to reign O’Connor in because she’s laughably bad. Still, for the most part I found myself getting excited, thinking they were going to improve upon the promise shown in the first film. Nope, not really.
After 15 minutes the narrative gets broken up and all the good work in the build-up gets undone. Can’t the filmmakers see this is a problem? The scenes of the Warrens early on aren’t even necessary. Just bring them in when they get called in. That and adding the case of the Lutz’s and some sceptics merely serves to highlight the dubious nature of what we’re being presented. You’re killing the validity of your own film. You’re supposed to suck me in for a couple of hours before I realise it’s just a movie. It’s a shame because this story, being that it revolves around a young girl is more disturbing than the one in the original. This is so damn frustrating. There’s good stuff in this that could’ve lead to something really, really good. There’s just too many cutaways and structurally/thematically it’s a re-tread of the first film. The kids are terrific, Vera Farmiga is perfectly fine, and the film works in fits and starts. That’s kind of the problem, though. It’s well-shot, but poorly scripted, structured, and paced. Cut it down to 90-100 minutes and throw the Warrens into the main storyline a lot quicker and you might’ve actually had something here.
There was potential here for an even scarier film than the original. Unfortunately, all of the same problems reoccur here and it’s far less forgivable this time. So it ends up being the weaker film. A comically bad performance by Frances O’Connor, the inclusion of the debunked Amityville case, and distracting clichéd British pop tunes doesn’t help either. The two young girls are terrific, though.