Director: James Wan
Writer(s): Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, James Wan & David Leslie Johnson
Studio/Distributor: Warner Bros.
Box Office: $320.3m
Release Date: 10 June, 2016
IMDb Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
UK Blu Ray release? Yes
Patrick Wilson – Ed Warren
Vera Farmiga – Lorraine Warren
Madison Wolfe – Janet Hodgson
Frances O’Connor – Peggy Hodgson
Lauren Esposito – Margaret Hodgson
Benjamin Haigh – Billy Hodgson
Patrick McAuley – Johnny Hodgson
Bonnie Aarons – Demon Nun
Javier Botet – Crooked Man
Plot According to IMDb
Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to North London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by a malicious spirit.
Fresh from a multi-billion pound grossing movie and with the world of film at his feet, James Wan could have directed anything. Not forgetting his roots, he chose to direct the sequel to his successful 2013 hit horror The Conjuring, crafting a superior sequel that delivers scares, thrills, emotions and so much more.
Opening in a similar fashion to the first film in which a famous case is shown which forms a loose connection to the main case the film is centred around, Ed and Lorraine Warren are investigating the Amityville haunting. It is a genius introduction to the house: the camera pans from the outside in, showing us an idyllic suburban street then through the window and into the main room. Though we’re seeing it from inside, the house is instantly recognisable. The shape of the windows tells you everything, and there are instant chills once you clock where you are.
Investigating the Amityville case, for the first time we see Lorraine in one of her trances. Before we’ve only heard about them, but here we see it. It has echoes of The Further in Insidious, but Wan quickly avoids any repetition by giving us our first glimpse of The Nun, the poster girl for this film and the antagonist that sets Lorraine her biggest challenge yet.
The Amityville opening is a nice nod to an old horror icon, particularly the reference to the boy in the photograph. The Conjuring opened with an introduction to Annabelle which has since spawned two spin-offs; it makes you wonder whether Amityville is being set up for a comeback.
The opening scrolling titles maintain that distinctive 70’s feeling, and just as soon as the goosebumps rise, we’re straight in to the 70’s London. It’s a superb introduction to the location. London Calling blasts out as images of 70’s London quickly intersperse. The music, the imagery, the culture of punk rock and Thatcher – it takes time to introduce us to the setting, not only the location but the culture of that time. It’s a catchy intro.
And testament to the crew for recreating the 70’s council house street. They could’ve just as easily shot the facade of the house but instead they lovingly recreate the standard suburban streets of London, complete with cracks in the pointing and the battered 70’s cars.
The Hodgson family, the unwitting victims the latest Warren case, are steadily introduced to us by way of their quirks. Mrs Hodgson is fighting to raise four children alone, all of whom have their own troubles and with age gaps that separate them. The house is unkempt and particularly run down, but in its own strange way it has a cosy and homely feel to it. You can just imagine Mrs Hodgson’s roast dinner and apple crumble staving off the smell of damp on a Sunday afternoon.
The haunting is gradual and is seen through the children’s eyes. There are some genuinely frightening moments, and you have to applaud Wan for finding fresh scares in what is technically his fourth haunted house film. And scares he does provide in abundance, from creaking floorboards and moving furniture, to a particularly frightening scene in which the long dead Bill Wilkins starts to speak through Janet.
It takes a while for the Warrens to arrive in London, themselves battling their own demons, sometimes in front of a TV camera. Vera Farmiga nails her performance once again, showing the humanity behind the hauntings, her exhaustion weighing heavy on their professional life. Deciding to take a step back and haunted by the Nun, her Mothering instinct can’t help but take over when the Hodgson family come calling for help.
The Enfield Haunting is a well documented case, and some of the well-known photos are lovingly recreated with the pitch-perfect cast. There’s a genuine attempt at providing a scientific explanation, with plenty of people on hand to debunk any belief in the paranormal. Ed and Lorraine spend time with the family, and as the haunting grows stronger, the connection with the Nun is well established…
There are a number of stand out moments in this film. There are some genuine frights, such as Janet in the room with the inverted crosses or when she is home alone from school. There’s also the incredibly inventive way in which Wan frames Ed’s interrogation of the possessed Janet. In one shot and out of focus, we see Janet physically transform in to something other than herself, the framing and composition of the shot forcing us to strain and decipher what it is we might be seeing. Coupled with the menacing voice of Bill Wilkins, it’s a unique and genius piece of filming.
But what stands out the most in this perfect horror film is the heart. The time committed to introducing the Hodgson family makes us genuinely care for them, but it’s the scene where Ed sings to them that really stands out. It’s obvious why Lorraine is madly in love with him, and to see the children smile despite all they have been through, it’s a heartwarming scene that adds some much needed humanity amongst their macabre experience.
There are a couple of little niggles though, albeit extremely minor. The Crooked Man is too obviously CGI, and it surprises me that a spin-off focusing on him has got the green light. Transforming a safe children’s character in to the stuff of nightmares is a clever move, but the physical execution is lacking. There’s also the ending, which seems to happen so abruptly just by the mere mention of a name. But these are small pitfalls in an otherwise perfect film.
James Wan has successfully created an entire world (franchise, if you must) around the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, of which there are hundreds. What could have become a film-a-year knock-em-out franchise that might feel like a Monster of the Week episode of The X Files is instead only two films, spaced apart three years, that devote time and energy to their main characters whilst delivering some of the best horror film scenes in the 21st century. You can only hope that whoever steps in to these very large shoes to steer The Conjuring 3 can muster the excitement and compassion that Wan does each time.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (★ out of 5)
- James Wan was offered a ‘life changing’ amount of money to direct The Fate of the Furious after the success of Furious 7, but he turned it down to direct this film
- It had the biggest opening weekend gross for a horror film in three years – the film before that was The Conjuring
- The ghost boy that Lorraine sees when astral projecting is based on the infamous Amityville photo supposedly taken by Gene Campbell, a photographer who worked with Ed and Lorraine Warren
JANET: It said it wants to hurt you.
LORRAINE: When did it say that?
JANET: Right now.
Tomorrow: Night #18 – Switchblade Romance (2003)