As a film scholar and enthusiast, I am often asked why do I like horror films so much. What is it about the genre where bloodshed, psychological warfare, and disturbing images intrigues me? To this question, I do not have an answer. Like with traditional art and sculpture, describing the feelings that accompany a particular piece is impossible. Same goes with film, in my humble opinion. The film going experience is less about the representation of a series of images used to form a narrative but about the visceral, more emotional responses the audience has to it. It is often these feelings that can make a film extremely successful or a major flop.
Before I begin to wane philosophically on the nature of cinema, I am bringing my focus back onto my most recent cinematic experience with the film The Conjuring 2. A sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring, the aptly titled The Conjuring 2 acts more as a partner piece to its predecessor rather than relying upon the conventions that so often mire sequels today. As opposed to a continuance of a particular story, The Conjuring 2 extends the world of Ed and Lorraine Warren, “Paranormal Investigators”, into another time and place. This installment finds the two charismatic and spiritually complicated characters in 1977 London, England, where muted greens and plush carpets adorn every depicted scene. It’s all so 70’s. The Warren’s task this time is to assist a family who is experiencing strange, paranormal phenomenon in their City-subsidized house. Reports of levitation, unexplained sounds and the demonic possession of Janet, one of the four Hodgson children being plagued by these nightmarish incidents.
Instead of resorting to a plot play-by-play, I instead want to center more on the tangential elements of the film. The narrative is interesting in many ways. It develops enough back story of the Warren’s to support their intentions throughout the film without becoming iterative of the first film. There are also many unique questions asked throughout the movie, whether intentional or not by the director I do not know. These questions prompt the viewer to take each and every depicted character’s motivations with a literal grain of salt, giving the film an air of incredulity. This incredulity compliments the skepticism that accompanies the Hodgson’s families attempts with convincing the authorities of their supernatural situation. The dialogue and cinematography, like the apparent ambiguity of the verity of the films’ events, are subtle and provocative, leaving the viewer with the dilemma of whether to believe what they are seeing, or to laugh off the incidents being presented as though it was one big elaborate hoax.
I mention the idea of a hoax because The Conjuring 2 is based on actual events reported by the Hodgson Family in 1977 London. What makes it so unique is that some the events depicted in the film are, in a way, re-enactments of the real life events that were recorded audibly and visually. Known as the Enfield Haunting, I ask you to Wikipedia it to see how the film successfully relayed the real Hodgson’s family experience into film as a piece of art.
I propose that aside from the traditional horror/thriller film tropes at play in The Conjuring 2, there’s also a whole lot of subversion going on. Yes, this film has components often associated with ‘popcorn flicks’ or mindless entertainment, but there’s also various concepts lurking below the surface, below what you as the viewer and the Warren’s as characters, cannot see. It’s a feeling that’s invoked. This feeling lies somewhere between skepticism and sympathy.
Acted the hell out of, The Conjuring 2 is a solid, welcome addition to the horror genre canon. As Lorraine Warren, Vera Farmiga shines with tenacity and inherent conflict. Her scenes with that terrifying nun are a sight to behold. The younger actors, particularly the revelatory Madison Wolfe who portrays the possessed (?) Janet Hodgson, is stellar. Instead of pulling a Linda Blair-esque performance, her role is subtle and quite sad. But this film is less about the acting and more about the feelings. Is The Conjuring 2 scary? Yes. Is it a classic horror film? Maybe. Is it an exercise in the power of cinema? Most definitely.