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Ghostbusters Go to England

Warner Brothers
 134 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed byJames Wan 
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga
The Conjuring 2

Ed and Lorraine Warren spent over a half century investigating paranormal phenomena and making a name for themselves as perhaps the world’s most renowned experts in the field. Several of the occurrences they investigated, including the so-called Amityville Horror, became the basis of best-selling books or popular movies, even though most of their claims have been rather definitively debunked. Now, the Warrens lend their name to another famous real-life case, that of the so-called Enfield Poltergeist, in The Conjuring 2. Regardless of how accurate the story is, there’s no question that director James Wan has made a scary movie out of that case. There’s also little question that it would have been a better movie had it not attempted to support the Warrens’ version of events.


The Conjuring 2 is based on a real life incident in the London suburb of Enfield in 1977, in which a family claimed that some supernatural force was responsible for moving furniture in the house around on repeated occasions and causing various other disturbances. Numerous psychic investigators, reporters, and professional magicians looked into the alleged haunting, with most concluding that the family’s children were responsible for the allegedly paranormal activity as a rather successful form of attention-getting pranks. The real life Ed and Louise Warren may have visited the home for a day but otherwise had little connection to the events.


In the cinematic version of the story though, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Louise (Vera Farmiga) are front and center. As in real life, 11-year-old Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) reports that she’s been talking with the spirit of an old man who lived in the Hodgson’s house previously. Soon, Janet’s mother, Peggy (Frances O’Connor), and Janet’s siblings also start seeing things. The local Catholic Church contacts the Warrens and asks them to investigate. Louise is somewhat reluctant to get involved however, because, a few months earlier, while investigating the Amityville haunting, she had a vision of a demon that she thinks is going to kill Ed.


Nonetheless, the Warrens do go to England and encounter a bit of a media circus, as reporters are already aware of the story. Rival investigators Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) and Anita Gregory (Franka Potente) have also been looking into the Hodgsons’ story. The Warrens want to make sure that the haunting is real, and what they find is that the same demon that Louise saw in Amityville has now taken up residence in the Hodgson home and is behind all the psychic phenomena, including controlling the spirit of the old man who formerly lived in the home.


While cinematic ghost stories in general have been around for decades, they usually aren’t based too closely on actual events. Instead, screenwriters manipulate the manifestations for maximum dramatic effect. Thus, while The Exorcist was based on an actual incident in Washington, D.C. in the 1940’s, author William Peter Blatty pretty much picked and chose various bits of exorcism lore and actual ritual and added some touches of his own, resulting in a best-selling novel and one of the best horror films of all time.


Unfortunately, director James Wan and his screenwriting team did not have that same freedom on Conjuring 2 that Blatty enjoyed on The Exorcist. Instead, the film was made with the approval of 89-year-old Louise Warren, who acted as a technical consultant (Ed died in 2008). In addition to expanding the Warrens’ role in the actual events, Wan was more or less forced into accepting their version of what went on. The result is a movie that’s overloaded with haunts and frights, to increasingly lesser effect, and runs about 30 minutes too long.


So, viewers see the ghost of the old man, who speaks through young Janet. They also get a shadowy figure of a crooked man. And they get mysterious lights that shouldn’t be there mysteriously appearing in a child’s tent fort. And they get something in a dark basement. And they get bored eventually, even before the film gets to its over-the-top finale. And, speaking of the finale, the way in which the Warrens defeat the demon has to be the silliest I’ve come across yet in the dozens of similar horror films I’ve seen.


The screenplay problems detract from what is otherwise a very solid production. Wilson and Farmiga have very good chemistry together and make the Warrens quite folksy, likable, and approachable (nothing like the hucksters others claim them to be). In one scene, Ed even sings an Elvis tune to calm the Hodgson children down. As in the first Conjuring movie, in which the Warrens came to the aid of another couple besieged by supernatural forces, Wan takes his time in developing the Hodgsons as real people with real problems, notably the same types of problems single mothers raising multiple children on a limited income have faced for years on both sides of the Atlantic.


Wan also takes his time with his scares. Instead of going for the quick jump scare followed by the next scene, he lets the scene go on, in true Hitchcockian fashion building suspense. The best sequence occurs when Ed goes into the Hodgsons’ partially flooded basement to help fix their washing machine. He slogs around in knee-deep water, making small talk with Peggy Hodgson, as the audience sits there, just knowing that something is in the water. The eventual shock is that much greater.


Under Wan’s stewardship, Warner Brothers is rapidly turning the Hodgsons’ exploits into a cottage industry. This is the third film based in some manner on their cases, and they have 40 more years of material to mine. And with Wan, Wilson, and Farmiga firmly attached to the franchise, future movies should enjoy quite a good pedigree. The trick will be seeing how much leeway Wan has in crafting a screenplay. Even with this script’s flaws, The Conjuring 2 is a decent movie with some good scares. But if Wan makes the next movie his way, then he’s liable to conjure up quite a success.

Read other reviews of The Conjuring 2:


The Conjuring 2 (2016) on IMDb