In film and literature, the genre of horror is an important one. Horror isn't merely a way to induce scares as a form of entertainment; horror narratives also explore aspects of the human condition beyond the confines of reality. Yes, this branch of speculative fiction is best consumed in the dark, but it is very much capable of shedding light on themes of mortality, spirituality, religion, and faith by expounding on them in a way that movies/novels grounded on realism can’t.
But what if the horror movie you’re about to watch is actually based on real events, real people, and real experiences? Does that weaken the fright factor or strengthen it?
The Conjuring 2, the much-awaited sequel to the 2013 runaway hit The Conjuring, opens six years after the events of the first film with a tragedy most horror fans will recognize—the Amityville murders of the early ’70s, a brutal crime that spawned its own series of film adaptations. In the prologue, real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are hired to verify if the killings in the Amityville mansion were in fact caused by possession or mere psychosis. In the process of their investigation, Lorraine encounters an inhumane demon, an ominous entity that provokes her into questioning her and her husband’s chosen vocation.
After a few years, the Hodgsons, a family from a sleepy street in London, are burdened by the presence of an oppressive spirit in their household. Janet (Madison Wolfe), one of the daughters, starts sleepwalking in the night, a presence from beyond disturbing her every move. And when the supernatural incidents of the Hodgson residence turn into a media sensation, the Warrens are once again commissioned by the Church to see if the haunting is legitimate.
Commanding his scare tactics with the precision of a maestro, director James Wan has found a rhythmic method to the macabre. He winds the tension in the early scenes in a sadistic manner, invoking the unseen to make his audience curl up in fear. The Conjuring movies are arguably the most sophisticated of his franchise films (Saw and Insidious being the others), and it’s evident that at certain points he is paying tribute to masters of the canon while still building an original technique to his terror. As in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, the victim of demonic violence is a young girl—lonely, misunderstood, and in the throes of a heartbreak from abandonment by her father. She immediately casts doubt on the pessimists, a refreshing, deliberately manipulative angle that toys with the audience’s expectations.
It’s all familiar territory, but the strong cast and modern approach to the tried-and-tested haunted house tropes are piss-your-pants effective—regardless of whether or not the story is hinged on actual events. And although the film’s third act suffers from clunky storytelling and ostentatious jump-scares, there’s a bigger message that resonates in the end.
You see, The Conjuring 2 is actually a movie about family disguised as a horror flick. Peppered with the usual flying objects, creepy kids, and soul-hungry nuns, at the core of its black, festering heart is a tale of compassion. A tale of how despite dangerous circumstances, defending the weak is always more morally conscious…even if you’re up against the devil himself.
If you want to be sleepless the next few nights, The Conjuring 2 does the trick.