The original movie is now three years old and it remains one of my favorites in the horror genre. The spin-off story of “Annabelle” was not nearly as effective but it was not from the same director and it lacked the elements that “The Conjuring” had, mainly the Warrens , Ed and Lorraine, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. These two very sympathetic characters help make sense of the ghost story and allow the possession material to fit with the other scares in the last section of the first film. They are even more centrally involved in this new story and the result is a movie that is satisfying but not nearly as engaging as the predecessor.
These films both play the “Based on a True Story” game, and since the leads are supposed to represent actual historical figures, I guess it makes sense that they have to deal with some of the controversies they were involved with. Their involvement with the Amityville Horror case may be the crucial point at which you either accept or reject the legitimacy of their investigations. In this film, the opening makes reference to their involvement and there is a nicely creepy trance scene that recounts the horrors that precipitated the story that became so famous. When the Amityville case was later characterized as a hoax, it would seem to put a dent in the Warren’s credibility. That twist actually becomes an important plot point in this film, since the possibility of a hoax would keep the church out of the situation.
Very much as in the first film, we get a nicely paced introduction to a family that is struggling to make it through a divorce and tough economic times, this time in England. A mom and her four kids live in a dilapidated row house in Northern London, and strange things begin to happen. From the beginning of this story however, the possession angle is clear and there are lots of indicators that this is where the danger lies. The two young girls in the film, struggle to stay grounded but events really seem to push the idea that something supernatural is happening here. Unlike the earlier case, this event is being played out in public and there are a number of other “experts” involved in investigating and maybe helping the family. The Warrens are there as consultants but it does not take long for them to fully embrace the events and become part of the story themselves.
Horror films succeed on creativity, timing and a good sense of what creeps us out. This movie works those ideas well about 80% of the time. There are dark visions with horrific images that you know are going to give you a jump scare, but only if they are handled well. I think Director James Wan does a good job making the fright scenes he and his co-screenwriters put on paper. He is not always as successful with the drama outside of the scare scenes. Ed and Lorraine are good characters but sometimes they come off as a little too perfect. I did like the sequence where Ed helps the family calm down for a night with a little music, that was the most real moment that the two paranormal investigators have in the movie. The mumbo jumbo about having the name of the demon they seek to exorcise, comes out of nowhere as does the key to discovering the truth behind the events at the public housing house in Enfield Borough. The final sequence has a good taut climax without going over board on the effects.
By sticking to the principles of a good haunting story, and not getting carried away with CGI effects, the film sustains a sense of dread as well as personal empathy for the family involved. We are not put at too great a distance by the scope of the horror and we can understand the family’s desire to protect the kids as they are being attacked. The kids friends disappear from the film, and given the nature of the possession story, that makes sense. I did think that the loyalty of the family’s neighbors across the street was surprising, but maybe they could imagine that if something were not done to draw a line, they could easily have been in the same spot. I can’t see this making a year end “best of” list as the original did three years ago, but it is a worthy follow up and except for what seems like a slightly rushed resolution, a well made story.