Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 was written by James Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes and David Leslie Johnson (it took four people to write this?). It was directed by James Wan.

Chad and Carey Hayes are twins and writing partners who seem to specialize in horror films. They previously wrote First Daughter (OK, so that one wasn't a horror film per se, although it was horrible), House of Wax, The Reaping, Whiteout and The Conjuring. Johnson wrote Orphan (an underrated film I liked quite a bit), Red Riding Hood and Wrath Of The Titans. He also wrote a couple of episodes of The Walking Dead (Chupacabra and Triggerfinger).

James Wan directed Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2 and Furious 7. He's also currently directing the upcoming Aquaman movie for Warner Bros.

As you might expect from the title, it's a sequel to 2013's The Conjuring, a very successful little horror film that wracked up an astonishing $137 MILLION dollars! Holy crap! I'm surprised it's taken this long to pump out a sequel!

The film stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, reprising their roles of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. It deals with another incident from the Warren's case files, this time the Enfield Poltergeist, which took place in England from 1977 to 1979.

The Conjuring 2 features a few genuinely creepy moments which elevate it above most so-called "scary" films. The Demonic Nun in particular was quite effective, and there's a feeling of darkness and dread that saturates the entire movie.

Like many movies of this ilk, this one claims it's based on a true story. I have absolutely no problem believing that. I'm positive it's true that this was based on a story.

The movie's already a hit, and Warner Bros. has announced that the Demonic Nun featured in the film will be getting her own spinoff, titled— what else— The Nun. I can see the tag line on the poster now: "Nun Will Survive." Sorry, sorry! This is getting to be a habit! Forgive me, I didn't mean to wimple out! 

Oddly enough the Demonic Nun character wasn't in the original script, as the monster was going to be a typical horned devil-like thing. It wasn't until March 2016 that director James Wan had a dream about a scary nun, and decided to add the character to the film during reshoots.

The Conjuring spinoff Annabelle is also getting a sequel, and The Conjuring 3 is no doubt right around the corner. There's seemingly no stopping this horrific franchise!


The Plot:
We begin with a flashback to 1974 as real life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate the Amityville murders, their most famous and celebrated case. During a seance in the actual Amityville house, Lorraine has a vision of Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdering his family. She also sees the figure of a ghastly Demonic Nun, who impales her husband Ed on a jagged splinter of wood. 

Lorraine's so traumatized by both the brutality of the Amityville case and the vision of Ed's death that she wants to quit the paranormal investigating biz.

We then jump forward to 1977, where we meet the Hodgson family, who live in Enfield, England. Peggy Hodgson's a single mom trying to raise her four kids in a dilapidated council house (public housing, for us non-Brits). Her eleven year old daughter Janet begins experiencing odd happenings around the house. Little things like nightmares, sleepwalking and teleporting from her second floor bedroom to the living room below. You know, the usual.

This is no shy ghost, as it flings furniture around in front of Peggy, the neighbors and even the police! That's a refreshing change from most horror films, where the ghosts suffer from performance anxiety and won't appear in front of a crowd. When the ghost begins physically biting Janet, Peggy is reluctantly forced to seek help.

A TV reporter brings noted paranormal expert Maurice Grosse to the Hodgson house to investigate the case. They interview Janet, who begins speaking in a deep, evil voice. Apparently she's being possessed by the spirit of Bill Wilkins, the previous owner of the house, who died in a ratty chair in the living room years before. Bill doesn't seem to realize he's dead, and doesn't take kindly to the Hodgson's trespassing on his property. Wow, even the ghosts of old men want you off their lawns! Most normal humans would hightail it out of there after receiving an eviction notice from an angry ghost, but not this family! There's still over an hour of runtime left at this point, so they decide to stay.

The case eventually reaches the Catholic church, which orders the Warrens to fly to England to investigate. Lorraine doesn't want to go, due to her visions of Ed's death. Ed assures her there's nothing to worry about, and promises they'll go only as consultants, and won't get involved. Lorraine's still leery about going, and later that day she has another vision of the Demonic Nun. In her trancelike state Lorraine slashes at the bible she's been reading. She realizes the Hodgson's are in mortal danger, and reluctantly agrees to go.

The Warrens arrive in England and meet the Hodgson family. They speak with Maurice Grosse, who's convinced the case is real. His colleague, noted paranormal debunker Anita Gregory, believes Janet is faking her possession.

Ed interviews Janet, who becomes possessed by Wilkins almost on cue. Once again he claims the Enfield house belongs to him, and wants the Hodgsons gone. The Warrens witness several more events, including spectral biting and levitation. When Bill Wilkins completely trashes the Hodgson's kitchen, they're finally convinced.

The Warrens are ready to contact the church and give the Enfield Haunting two thumbs up, when Anita Gregory shows them a videotape she made. The tape shows Janet deliberately wrecking the kitchen, clearly not under any demonic influence (although how a small girl managed to so thoroughly demolish the room isn't mentioned). The disappointed Warrens leave the Hodgson's house and head back to America.

While waiting for their train, the Warrens feel something's not right. They review the taped interviews and realize that the ghost of Bill Wilkins is only a pawn, being manipulated by the vastly more powerful Demonic Nun— the one who's been haunting Lorraine's visions. They leave the train and head back.

At the Hodgson's, Janet reveals to her older sister that she did indeed trash the kitchen, but only because the demon threatened to kill her family if she didn't figure out a way to get rid of the Warrens. Just then Janet becomes repossessed (heh), and locks everyone out of the house. The Warrens return, and Ed breaks into the basement. As he makes his way upstairs, the Demonic Nun tries its best to kill him, even temporarily blinding him by bursting a steam pipe.

Lightning strikes a tree in front of the house, leaving a deadly sharp, jagged stump. Lorraine realizes it's the same stump that impaled Ed in her vision. She realizes she could banish the Demon back to Hell if only she knew its name. She remembers writing the Demon's name in her bible during one of her visions. She gets it out and sees the name "Valak" slashed across several pages. Lorraine enters the house in a desperate attempt to save Ed.

The half-blind Ed finds the possessed Janet in her bedroom, standing in an open window and ready to leap onto the jagged tree stump below. As she jumps, Ed grabs her with one hand while holding onto the bedroom curtain with the other. The curtain begins ripping, threatening to send them both hurtling down onto the tree stump.

Lorraine enters the room and the Demonic Nun, aka Valak, psychically pins her against the wall. She calls the demon by name, and manages to condemn it back to Hell. As it's sucked into the void, its hold on Lorraine is loosened. She grabs Ed, who pulls the now unpossessed Janet back inside.

We then see the Warrens back home in America, where Ed places a zoetrope from the Enfield house in his museum of haunted artifacts.


• This is some extreme nitpicking, but whatever. The name of the movie is The Conjuring 2, but what exactly is being conjured here? The ghost of Bill Wilkins? The Demonic Nun? Both seemed to appear on their own without anyone "conjuring" them up.

The original film shared this same problem. 

• If you're a regular reader of my blog (as millions are), you know of my hatred of watered-down PG-13 "horror films." You know, movies that are sanitized for audience protection, so teens can see them and pump up the box office take.

I naturally assumed The Conjuring 2 was another one of these anemic films. Imagine my surprise when I found out it's actually rated R. Why, I have absolutely no idea. There's no nudity, little or no cursing, and absolutely no blood or gore. There's not even much in the way of violence. 

I'm wondering if has something to do with the demonic possession angle? Do movies that feature possessed children (like The Exorcist) automatically get an R rating?

• Like the previous film, this one proudly trumpets the fact that it's based on a true story that was documented by real-life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The film begins with a flashback to the Warren's investigation of the Amityville murders, which was their most famous case and also supposedly a true story. However, the so-called "Amityville Horror" has been thoroughly debunked over the years, as several members of the Lutz family have freely admitted they made up the whole thing for monetary gain.

If the Warren's signature case is a bunch of hooey, what does that say about the rest of them?

Amazingly the movie actually touches on this topic, as the Warrens appear on a talk show and a fellow guest accuses them of being frauds. Ed defends himself by saying that while the Lutz family made up the general story, there were many other elements of the Amityville case that were authentic.

It's a valiant effort on the part of the writers to hand-wave the problem away, but it fails miserably.

The filmmakers desperately want us to believe that the Enfield Poltergeist case really happened as well, but the cold hard truth is that it didn't. Not as shown, that is. It's now believed that the entire incident was a hoax, perpetrated by Janet Hodgson and her older sister, who was able to speak in a deep, "demonic" voice. In fact Janet has even admitted to faking many of the supernatural incidents that occurred in the house.

Additionally the Warrens were barely involved with the case in real life, although several other paranormal experts were, and swore the incidents were authentic.

If you're still on the fence about the veracity of the case, take a look at this. It's a series of still photos allegedly showing young Janet Hodgson "levitating" while being possessed. AhemApparently my sister and I levitated in our bedrooms quite a bit as kids, and didn't even realize it.

It's perfectly fine to be a fan of these films and stories. Just remember though that they're stories, and have little or nothing to do with reality.

• Filming on The Conjuring 2 began on September 21, 2015 in LA. Due to the inexplicable series of events that plagued the production of the first film, a priest was brought in to bless the movie. Ouch! I just sprained my eyes rolling them so hard!

• Whenever a film is set in the past, it's a given there are going to be anachronisms. I didn't spot many in The Conjuring 2. The fact that the majority of the film's set in England may have something to do with that. After all, few Americans know what life in England was like in 1977. The only anachronism I spotted were the lights on the Hodgson's Xmas tree. They appeared to be small LED bulbs, which weren't widely used in Xmas decorations until the 1990s. 

• At the beginning of the film, Janet and a friend are caught smoking at school by a teacher. There's something really odd about the cigarette that Janet's holding. The end is conical, and has a glowing red tip even when no one's puffing away on it. I'm not a smoker, but I'm pretty sure cigs don't work that way. 

I'm assuming the filmmakers didn't want to give a real cigarette to a kid, so they whipped up a fake looking prop.

• It's nice to know that Transatlantic travel is apparently a thing in the afterlife! Lorraine is first haunted by the Demonic Nun in America, and later it pops up to pester the Hodgsons in England. Now that's a well traveled demon!

• The filmmakers did a terrific job of recreating the Enfield house, right down to the David Soul (remember him?) posters on the walls of Janet's bedroom. 

• The Big Bad in the movie is a demon named Valak, who for some reason takes the form of a terrifying, undead Demonic Nun. I think maybe it does this to unsettle Lorraine, who was raised a Catholic?

Valak's fairly scary as movie monsters go, but she (it?) would have been even more frightening if she didn't resemble Marilyn Manson in a habit. Or worse, Brain Guy from Mystery Science Theater 3000!

• Looks like someone really likes The Shining.

• At one point Lorraine finds Ed in the living room, putting the finishing touches on a painting. He says he was having trouble sleeping, and so got up early to paint the image he kept seeing in his head. Lorraine's unnerved to see him painting the terrifying Demonic Nun from her visions.

Who knew Ed was such an accomplished portrait artist? Even stranger, he's as calm and soothing as Bob Ross during this scene, as if painting a ghoulish religious figure is the most normal thing in the world.

• The demon's name, "Valak," appears several times inside the Warren's home. We first see it as Ed works on his painting. The letters "V-A-L-A and K" hang from the window behind him. Later we see the Warren's daughter Judy making bracelets out of lettered beads in the living room. Three of her bracelets spell out "Valak." The last time we see it is in the Warren's library. There are five wooden letters placed randomly on the bookshelves. The letters are— you guessed it— "V-A-L-A and K" again.

It's not really clear why these instances of the demon's name kept popping up in the Warren's house, especially since they hadn't even agreed to take on the Enfield case yet. And why would Lorraine have a decorative "V" and "K" on her shelf, when those letters don't appear in any of her family's names? Maybe Lorraine (and her daughter too?) sensed the name in her visions, and began subconsciously arranging letters in her home? 

• One last thing about our friend Valak— he's apparently real. Well, real in the sense that he's part of demonic mythology, that is. Several ancient texts, including the Dictionnaire Infernal, Pseudomonarchia Deamonum and the Book Of Goetia all mention a demon named Valak (sorry, no mention of Ash's Necronomicon Ex-Mortis).

Valak was (is?) supposedly a big deal, as he's described as the President Of Hell. Good gig! He also commanded thirty legions of demons, and was believed to be very powerful. 

There's just one catch— he didn't look like a scary nun. Instead he usually took the form of a child with angel wings, who rode a two headed dragon.

• When Maurice Grosse first records Janet/Bill, he answers a few questions and then grunts some seemingly random words, such as "I'M," "IT," "LET," and "LEAVE!" 

A few days later Ed "interviews" Bill and asks why he doesn't just leave. Bill moans and again spews out some more incongruent words— "trapped," "won't" and "me."

Later on Ed realizes Bill is sending them a secret message. He takes the two separate taped interviews and plays them at the same time. The random words then line up to say, "I'M trapped! IT won't LET me LEAVE!" 

Gosh, Bill, that was much, much easier than simply saying the whole sentence to begin with. Lucky for Ol' Dead Bill that Ed was smart enough to figure out his secret code. And kudos to the ghost of a seventy two year old man for being technologically savvy enough to split his plea for help across two separate tape recorders!

Bill also recites some sort of riddle, which goes something like "It's something you didn't choose, but you own it for life." Lorraine correctly figures out the answer is "your name." She then realizes they'll have power over the demon if they can figure out it's name. She then remembers she wrote (well, slashed) the demon's name in her bible, and discovers it's "Valak."

Again, why did Bill have to be so cryptic here? Why couldn't he have just told Lorraine the demon's name? I suppose we could say it may have been because Valak was hanging around listening, and wouldn't have let Bill simply tell them what they needed to know.

Ed and Lorraine then realize Bill is only a pawn, being manipulated by the even stronger and more malevolent Demonic Nun. So I guess bullying persists even into the afterlife. How depressing.

• The Enfield Haunting takes place during the Christmas holiday, and disrupts the Hodgson's celebration. Ed tries to cheer up the kids by singing Can't Help Falling In Love while doing his best Elvis impression. Lorraine looks on, realizing how lucky she is to be married to Ed.

It's a bold move to put such a scene in a horror film, but you know what? It works! It could have been the most cringe-worthy scene ever in the hands of lesser actors, but Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga pull it off. Plus Wilson can actually sing (I assume that was him singing, that is)!

• The film ratchets up the tension by having Lorraine experience a vision of Ed dying, so the audience will spend the rest of the runtime worrying about him. A few things here:

First of all, there's no way in hell Ed was ever going to die in this film. Not when there are still additional sequels to make!

Secondly, this film is allegedly based on real events, and we know Ed Warren didn't die in Enfield.

Lastly, at one point Ed actually is in danger, but ultimately Lorraine saves him. So her highly publicized visions are pretty much worthless then, if they don't necessarily come true or can be easily changed.

• Paranormal debunker Anita Gregory shows the Warrens a video of Janet purposely trashing the Hodgson family's kitchen, proving that the entire incident was just a hoax. The disappointed Warrens reluctantly decide to head back to America.

Um… what about the fact that a small eleven year old girl was able to pick up a heavy kitchen table by herself and hurl it through a window? What is she, bionic? Surely that was worth a writeup!

• The Hodgson's youngest son Billy has a zoetrope that displays an animated figure of the Crooked Man as it plays the nursery rhyme There Was A Crooked Man. Near the end of the film when Ed is trying to save Janet, the Crooked Man from the zoetrope somehow comes to life and tries to stop him.

I have no idea why the filmmakers decided to shoehorn this character into the story. We already had Bill Wilkins and the Demonic Nun— adding yet a third monster muddied the waters even more. No wonder the ghosts want the Hodgson's out of the house. It's getting right crowded in there! You could remove the Crooked Man completely from the film and it wouldn't affect the plot one bit.

Plus what the hell is the Crooked Man supposed to be? Is he a ghost or demon who took the form of the nursery rhyme? Or are we supposed to believe the animated character somehow came to life and sprang out of the zoetrope? Apparently not even the director knows, as his fleeting appearances are never addressed.

Also, the Crooked Man looks completely out of place in the movie. Bill Wilkins looks like a decrepit old man, and the Demonic Nun looks like... well, like a scary demonic nun. They fit in with the established world.

The Crooked Man looks like he wondered off the set of a Tim Burton film. He looks more like a cartoon than a "realistic" ghost, reminiscent of the sketchy monster in The Babadook (a film that everyone but me seems to love). Even worse, he has a jerky, stop motion animated look to his movements. I think that was intentional, to show he was a cartoon come to life, but the effect failed miserably.

• For such a terrifying and powerful entity, Valak was surprisingly easy to beat. In the film's climax, Valak uses the Force to pin Lorraine to the wall of Janet's bedroom, while it tries to shove Ed out the window. Lorraine shouts, "Valak the Destroyer! I banish you to Hell!" and POOF! Valak gets sucked back into the abyss from whence it came. Well that was certainly easy! And disappointing. Somehow I was expecting a more prolonged good vs. evil battle.

• When Ed places the haunted zoetrope in his trophy room, you can see the horrifying Annabelle doll in a case in the background. The doll appeared briefly in a similar scene at the end of The Conjuring.

Annabelle was sort of a prequel to The Conjuring, although the Warrens don't bother to show up at all in Annabelle in the film at all. It's connection to the franchise is tenuous at best.

The Warrens really did keep a haunted Annabelle doll in a locked glass case in their trophy room. The real life Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann doll though, not that horrific abomination seen in the film.

The Conjuring 2 pulls off the difficult feat of being better than the original, and features a few genuinely creepy moments, especially those involving the Demonic Nun. Ignore all the "based on actual incidents" hype and just enjoy the story. It's worth a look on home video, but I wouldn't run any red lights to hurry to the cineplex. I gave the original film a B-, which in retrospect was way too high. It deserved a C at best. So I'm retroactively lowering the grade of the original and giving The Conjuring 2 a B-.

1 comment:

  1. I hated The Babadook too and know of at least two others that do :)


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