Skip to main content

They're calling it England's Amityville.

The Conjuring 2
(2016)

(SPOILERS) There’s a view that James Wan’s horror movies fall into the category of intelligent genre fare. And, I guess, they do, to the extent that they eschew gore and put the emphasis on character and atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less beholden to standard shock tactics than their less esteemed brethren, or that the quality of the scripting is especially remarkable. The original The Conjuring was a decent-enough picture, making the most of its period setting and reputable lead thespians while flourishing its “based on a true story” badge with a pride that masked what should have had a “very, very loosely” preceding it. The Conjuring 2 is looser still in its authenticity, while possibly being even more enamoured of its ‘70s (England) trappings. It’s also the point where Wan’s signature moves have become entirely repetitive, even – at two and a quarter hours – exhaustingly so.


In the first scene – Amityville 1976 – our God-fearing ghost/demon/spirit busters Ed and Lorraine Warren are engaged in an attempt to contact the presence in the famous house, and Lorraine encounters a freaky-ass Marilyn Manson nun (are nuns destined to be the next clowns? Possibly best ask a Catholic, but definitely if the mooted spin-off movie materialises). A freaky-ass Marilyn Manson nun who will inform the rest of the proceedings, so rather like the device of Annabelle in the original. That’s an informative set-up for how the whole movie is going, as the sequence is chock full of whispers, ghostly creaking noises, out-of-body experiences, suddenly darkening lights, demon children, basements (naturally), sinister laughing and Dutch angles. Wan is pulling out his entire bag of tricks, but it’s a bag of tricks leading the way, not in service of a strong or original story.


There’s a reason William Peter Blatty had a reputation as an intelligent (to do the adjective justice) contributor to the genre, and that’s because his material was imbued with genuine thoughtfulness, with philosophical and religious enquiry and a desire to take a viewer on a journey – the journey the author is on. That may have meant that, without a base, crude shock tactician like William Friedkin, his work fell more often than not on deaf audiences (The Ninth Configuration, The Exorcist III), but it also emphasises how the genre very rarely manages to marry the two polar forces of scares and meditation over what lies behind those scares.


Wan has little going for him here smarts-wise, alas; he’s on a mission to redux everything in the original and his Insidious pictures, and the believer status of the Warrens has little real import (“Your visions are a gift from God” is about the extent of it). So Lorraine is haunted by something truly dreadful (“Ned, this is as close to Hell as I ever want to get”), which just happens to stylistically resemble the previous dread figures they have come across (or Wan has, at any rate). And, wouldn’t you know it, somehow the very same Amityville demon has been manipulating the spirit in the Enfield Haunting case. Small otherworld, innit?


Every tactic has become familiar to the point of banality here, be they sound attacks in the corners of rooms, a whole scene in a flooded basement that appears to be flooded just because (in a house that is truly TARDIS-like compared to its modest exterior), scary spirit Wilkins, who moves oddly but isn’t really especially unnerving, or the familiarly-possessed daughter of the house. The latter’s vocal antics are far less troubling than Frances O’Connor’s outrageous Dick van Dyke accent as mum Peggy Hodgson (the final photos of the actual protagonists in the case are an amusing reminder of how glammed up these productions are).


I go on a lot about unnecessary lengths of movies these days, but really, The Conjuring 2 has no business not topping out at 100 minutes tops. Which isn’t to say it would be suddenly a whole lot better, but it might be a recognition that an over-extended running time in a horror is no indication of respectability, or still further, depth. There’s the occasional strong scene, admittedly; Ned’s first interview with Wilkins, in which they all agree to turn away from Janet (Madison Wolfe) is effective and engaging, as he probes the spirit’s reasoning for remaining; the earlier sequence of a TV interview with the Warrens is almost self-reflexive in raising the claims of hoaxes in respect of their cases, as it also applies tangentially to Wan’s disdain for sticking to the purported facts behind his story.


Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are, as before, a quietly compelling couple (when Vera isn’t called upon to scream, at least). Which is good, as there’s precious little substance for them to work with. Most of the supporting cast, O’Connor’s accent aside, are decent, including Franke Potente as the sceptical front in the field of paranormal investigation, although Simon McBurney may look the part but is distractingly broad as Maurice Grosse.


This is another of those summer releases set at Christmas, but even watching it seasonally fails to lend it much in the way of extra buzz. The Hark the Herald Angels Sing motif is about as far as it goes, although kudos to the director for including excerpts from The GoodiesThe End of the World Show, which the outrageous spirit absolutely refuses to let Janet sit down and watch all the way through, indulging in rampant channel hopping. There’s bound to be a The Conjuring 3, as this did as well as the first movie, but someone seriously needs to service the Warrens with a good screenplay; the four credited writers here (including Wan) resolutely fail in that regard.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.