When the “true stories” of the world get told, Hollywood eventually listens. Finally, someone has taken on the task of the Enfield Poltergeist, which is a string of supposedly paranormal happenings at a council house in the late 1970s, which caused a minor sensation in the newspapers at the time.
Like any great horror story, there was photographic evidence, greatest of all images was the one of the then-11-year-old Janet Hodgson seemingly being thrown from her bed. What made the pictures so creepy, though, was not the subject, it was the fact that it had an everyday background. The dark colored wallpaper, the murky carpet, and messily placed posters on the walls all indicated this evil force had no great social hierarchy wants. Never mind the drafty mansions, the spirit had time to haunt the normal people – perhaps even you.
The story about The Enfield Haunting is a strange but purportedly true story based out of Enfield, London, England and was brought to the big screen in the sequel to The Conjuring, which is the James Wan horror “hit” from 2013 based on the retro look of scary movies. Just as before, this film follows the real-life married couple of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, again played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who actually did make an appearance at the Hodgson home in 1978.
However, in the movie, they take a very long time getting there. Wan’s film runs for almost two and a half hours, with an entire hour and five minutes having passed before the Warrens even step foot on English ground, let alone Enfield soil.
The first hour slowly drags along with one scene set in Enfield and the other in the United States, where the Warrens are dealing with a demonic nun who keeps popping up around the house, in the tried and true demonic nun way after being found in a prior haunting they were accused of “hoaxing.” The nun scenes, which were actually added as a last-minute reshot, are quick, quiet, efficient and best of all, horrifying– making them a welcome break in the director trying to tell the audience a “story” through the symbolism of nothing.
Deafening jump-scares are not exactly bountiful, and in place of mood-building scenes there’s an awful lot of sparkle and glitter – perhaps an influence from Wan’s prior movies such as Fast & Furious – which includes repetitive turning shots of Peggy (played by Frances O’Connor), the mother of the Hodgson residence, walking through her backyard and hallways that could have only felt more overplayed if they started by zooming out from inside of her nose.
Then there’s also a gangly supporting-demon called the Crooked Man, who walks from a haunted zoetrope to deliver ghost-train scares that are completely irrelevant to the main plot of the story. Much like the nun, this creature feels like a spare idea shoved into the movie that does not fit the character at all. The only actual relevance of his character is his strong resemblance to the scary urban legend of Slender Man. The poltergeist of the movie persistently switches the television from The Kenny Everett Video Show to a speech by Margaret Thatcher to the Finchley Conservatives, so maybe the director saw the lack of scariness in the film.
This low-key stuff deserved more space to develop, according to another older movie go-er, especially with Simon McBurney’s rival ghost hunter, an intriguing character who ends up explaining himself away in a couple of lines towards the end – the kind of summary that’s anything but satisfying. There so much more promised in the softer scenes, such as one in which Ed, who attempts an Elvis Presley accent, sings “Fools Rush In” to the Hodgsons because their father ran away with their record collection and another woman.
Is the lack of a strong male in the family the leading role for The Conjuring 2’s family horrors? Could the weapon against the all the forces of evil be the nothing that is Lorraine and Ed’s quietly stable marriage?
These are the kind of questions you can imagine the Conjuring franchise is making its future with – it is just unfortunate this branch never finds enough time between the yelling, throwing, and scraping to really get into them.
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Director: James Wan
Actors: Patrick Wilson, Simon McBurney, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe
Rating: R for Terror and Horror Violence
Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes