Milquetoast horror on repeat

While the cosmetic elements of the tale are certainly in place, the entire experience lacks the specificity required to make the horror truly compelling

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
12 July 2016, 7:38am
Clockwise from left: Vera Farmiga, Simon McBurney, Patrick Wilson and Frances O’Connor
Clockwise from left: Vera Farmiga, Simon McBurney, Patrick Wilson and Frances O’Connor
Though something of a loving pastiche of a long-running and ever-fecund subgenre of horror, James Wan’s The Conjuring franchise – which also incorporates the 2014 spin-off Annabelle and which stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as ‘real life’ paranormal investigator couple Ed and Lorraine Warren – is something of a comfortable anomaly in a field that supposed to be all about disturbance. 

Impeccably photographed and with a careful eye towards creating a detailed and immersive fictional world, the series suffers by dint of... well, being more of a series than a movie. A shoe-horned sub-plot involving the ominous Annabelle doll derailed the original 2013 entry – siphoning off a crucial degree of tension from the main plot in the interest of setting up a spinoff so as to rake in more cash.

Its sequel takes on a similarly digressive approach, never quite succeeding in injecting some freshness to the narrative, even if the action jumps from the US to the UK this time. 

As we’re re-introduced to the Warrens, we discover that after the events of the first film, the couple were involved in the infamous Amityville case from the 1970s – a confirmed hoax that inspired ‘The Amityville Horror’ book and film phenomenon. With the fallout of the case attracting further stigma – also through the prying eyes of the media – the couple begin to feel the strain of their unconventional career path. What’s even worse, however, is that Lorraine starts to sense an imminent danger to their lives, in the form of a powerful spirit that appears to foretell Ed’s death. 

Madison Wolfe plays the beleaguered Janet
Madison Wolfe plays the beleaguered Janet
Convincing her husband that they should quit their ghost-hunting and focus solely on the academic side of the job, Lorraine is frustrated to discover that the Church has called them in for ‘one last job’ – at least in a consultative capacity. It turns out that an impoverished family an England needs their urgent help, as a distraught single mother Peggy (Frances O’Conner) is at the end of her tether after her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) begins to show signs of demonic activity. 

It should come as a surprise to nobody that the couple are very quickly compelled to go beyond the call of duty, and end up surpassing their passive ‘consultative’ role to take a more active stance, aided by native supernatural expert Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney), whose efforts are counter-balanced by the skeptical Anita Gregory (Franka Potente). But while that’s a trope easily forgiven, what’s less easy is to let James Wan off without a warning on how he basically repeats the same haunted house/family structure of the previous film. 

While, again, the cosmetic elements of the tale are certainly in place, the entire experience lacks the specificity required to make the horror truly compelling. Once again blunting the edge of what the genre does best, Wan takes the easy way out with the couple and its adventure, ensuring that the damage is ultimately minimal and that the force they’re fighting is little more than a dimestore comic book villain. 

And in many ways, the Warrens belong more to that genre – they are superheroes first and foremost, and feel almost entirely out of place in a genre that’s supposed to unsettle, not coddle.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...