"Based on true events" and disturbing enough to get you looking for a crucifix
Like its predecessor, The Conjuring 2 begins with a notice that the film to follow is based on true events. Of course, the majority of moviegoers know what this means. Basically, the filmmakers will reference a few documented events, name some of their characters after real people, and then proceed to tell whatever fictional story they want to regardless of whether such things ever really happened or not. It’s a storytelling conceit most audiences play along with willingly. We know this because if the audience really believed a lot of the onscreen happenings to be true, most of them would be on their knees crying out in prayer while furiously trying to shape their cardboard drinking cups into a crucifix. There’s some scary stuff going on in this movie.
Based ever so slightly on the infamous Enfield haunting in late 1970s England, The Conjuring 2 focuses on a divorcee and her four children who are besieged by an evil spirit intent on possessing the youngest of the girls. After efforts by the police and local paranormal experts prove futile, the Catholic Church is petitioned for aid. Unwilling to immediately commit to an exorcism due to the possibility that the whole thing may be a publicity stunt, the Church asks Lorraine and Ed Warren to investigate the validity of the matter. Things quickly escalate, however, and the Warrens find their own lives are in danger.
And by escalate, I mean really, really escalate. As is the case with most sequels, The Conjuring 2 ramps up the volume quite a bit. While it still retains the overwhelmingly creepy atmosphere of the first movie, this new chapter in the continuing adventures of the Warrens throws in a few more jump scares, as well as a substantial amount of CGI, including one ill-conceived computer generated creation that will momentarily take most viewers out of the movie.
Just for a moment, though. While there is that one misstep, director James Wan is by now an old hand at churning out crowd-pleasing horror movies, having previously given us the first Saw movie, the original Conjuring, and two Insidious films. Wan is top form here, keeping things framed just right so you’re constantly nervous about what’s lurking off-screen, and often having his camera float through scenes so everything feels off kilter. (Maybe he’s practicing for that Aquaman movie he’s directing.) He and his writing team also never lose track of the human element amidst all the inhuman goings-on. The haunted Hodgsons are all portrayed sympathetically, the neighbors are actually neighborly, and the police and experts who are called in, though ultimately helpless, are never anything but concerned for the family.
It’s the Warrens who are the main focus, though. Admittedly, I have little knowledge of the real life Lorraine and Ed Warren, their relationship with the Church, or the validity of any of their claims, so I can’t speak to how accurate their portrayal is here. But when it comes to their fictional counterparts as played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, them I like. In a nutshell, they are the type of Christians we so often bemoan the lack of in motion pictures. They pray, they read their Bibles, and they never step outside their house without their rosaries. Even better, the Warrens are continuously shown to be lovingly devoted to one another, driven to serve others, and charitable to most everyone they meet. Well, except for that one guy who insults Lorraine on live television. But really, what good Catholic boy worth his salt is going to put up with anybody taking shots at his wife or mother? Overall, they are depicted as decent human beings with a deep faith, which ultimately becomes their only weapon in the final showdown with the evil they are confronted with.
In interviews, when questioned about the unabashed religiousness of his main characters, Wan has stated that since the real Warrens were such devout Christians, it would be a disservice to the story to present them as otherwise. Alas, if only half the recent movies based on the actual Bible were as conscientious of that basic premise as this little horror movie is.