Enfield’s famous alleged haunting is given Hollywood treatment with underwhelming results. It begins well with a terrific opening hour. Long scenes of menacing dread with expert sound design creep under the skin and are directed with invention by James Wan. It’s a shame then that The Conjuring 2 begins to fall apart, weirdly once the main characters played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson arrive in London to investigate the hauntings.
At 134 minutes, The Conjuring 2 is grossly overlong. I suspect that director James Wan wanted to flex his directorial muscles here and create a horror sequel with more character development and art house sensibilities. Unfortunately he’s had to wrestle with tropes that only Hollywood repeat again and again. So during its low points we have bad CGI, an action heavy finale and too many pointless scenes to pad out the bloated length. Throughout the second half of the film the scares become predictable and boring.
Many set-pieces work in the first hour however because Wan shows an invention with his camerawork that keeps us second guessing what lurks in the house. An early scene involving a tent and a toy fire engine is expertly paced and has a scary payoff that utilises sound effectively instead of overly relying on the soundtrack to burst into abrupt noise. Another scene involving a painting is also suspenseful and questions what you are actually seeing on screen. These scenes are scary and great fun, but I wish there was more of this slow burn tension.
They also reminded me of the set-pieces from The Sixth Sense where M.Night Shyamalan used silence and atmosphere (and also a tent) to maximise scares. The Sixth Sense was far scarier however because Shyamalan had an extraordinary performance gifted to him from Haley Joel Osment. This meant that his ordeal was rooted in sympathy and empathy that isn’t replicated from the children in The Conjuring 2. So while similar in direction, key sequences in The Conjuring 2 are fun and suspenseful but don’t have the emotional stakes to make us care like The Sixth Sense did.
The main problem with the film is that the ‘true story’ being told becomes more ridiculous and failed to make me believe at any point that this may have happened. Of course it didn’t, but I would like to have been convinced. As we get to the final act, cohesion is all but lost. Narratively things get messy and scenes begin to exist for the sake of adding one more scare without furthering the story in any way. Supporting characters begin to disappear for long stretches and the late introduction of a CG character felt wildly out of place to the rest of the film.
The Conjuring 2 begins promisingly with some solid scares and taut direction from James Wan. 1970’s London is recreated with a great eye for detail and I enjoyed the emphasis on old technology as a tool to create scares and evoke nostalgia. It’s a pity the story falls apart and becomes less scary the longer it goes on. Early scares work because they rely on your imagination to picture what you can’t see but rather hear. Unfortunately that isn’t the case later when a dog inexplicably transforms into a long-legged CG demon.