‘The Conjuring 2’ Drowns a Dramatic Real Story in Overblown SFX

Conjuring-2-poster

There are moments today when I want to slap filmmakers’ hands and take away their digital toyboxes. For example, in “Captain America: Civil War,” the emotional impact of a truly affecting character-based tale was nearly obliterated by extended CGI fight sequences that could have been 50 percent shorter.

When it comes to the most obvious and spectacular special effects, less is usually more.

Recently, I went to a screening of “The Conjuring 2,” the sequel to the wildly successful 2013 movie based on the exploits of Catholic paranormal investigators/demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The original was plenty spooky but light on showy effects. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the sequel. There were moments that startled me, but I was never scared, and mostly I was bored. If anything like what the movie showed actually happened in the North London neighborhood of Enfield, the entire British army, if not Doctor Who himself, would have been called in. To say it’s over the top would be classic British understatement.

The irony is that the original story, the 1977-’79 Enfield Poltergeist, named after a London suburb, is one of the best-documented paranormal cases in recent history. From the U.K. Daily Mail (don’t read the full story if you want to remain unspoiled for the movie):

What was going on? This was the case of the Enfield Poltergeist, which held the nation spellbound 30 years ago, puzzling policemen, psychics, experts in the occult and hardened reporters alike.

It involved levitation, furniture being moved through the air, and flying objects swirling towards witnesses. There were cold breezes, physical assaults, graffiti, water appearing on the floor, and even claims of matches spontaneously bursting into flame.

And before you ask why the family didn’t move, this was British public housing, and relocation wasn’t possible without the approval of the skeptical council, which didn’t want to buy the Hodgson family’s story.

Director James Wan returns for the sequel, but this time, the effects become so extreme and cartoonish that they detract from the story. And that’s a shame, because Madison Wolfe gives a great performance as the 11-year-old girl at the center of the events, and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are once again convincing and compelling as the Warrens.

Several times, we see a demon nun that’s so preposterous-looking that it could have come from FX’s twisted anthology “American Horror Story,” one season of which played on creator Ryan Murphy’s perverse obsession with Catholicism (OK, all his obsessions are perverse, but this was was especially odious).

At least, “The Conjuring 2,” like its predecessor — and like its forerunner, “The Exorcist” — takes faith seriously, especially the unique ability of the Catholic Church to battle ultimate evil.

Or, as a review at The A.V. Club put it:

With this installment, the Conjuring movies may have overtaken The Exorcist as the most Christian of horror franchises, taking place in a universe where the Catholic Church is the spiritual S.H.I.E.L.D. and demon hunters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) its holy roller super-agents.

Well, yeah, of course the Church is the spiritual S.H.I.E.L.D. But while the Warrens of “The Conjuring 2” make good use of their faith to deal with what’s happening in Enfield, they’d be better off with body armor and a tank.

It’s great to see a strong Catholic couple out there, battling the forces of evil, if only these forces didn’t wind up looking like a bad video game. The Enfield Poltergeist was plenty scary enough, and I’m pretty sure a more docudrama-style retelling would have had me on the edge of my seat, not lolling in it, rolling my eyes.

Image: Courtesy New Line Cinema

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