Horrormeister makes the unseen unnerving

The Conjuring 2, starring Madison Wolfe, investigates the supernatural happenings in a house in London in 1977.
The Conjuring 2, starring Madison Wolfe, investigates the supernatural happenings in a house in London in 1977. PHOTO: WARNER BROS SINGAPORE



134 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

The story: Following their investigation of a haunted farmhouse in Rhode Island in the United States in 1971 in The Conjuring, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are summoned to investigate the supernatural happenings in a house in London in 1977. An 11-year-old girl, Janet (Madison Wolfe), is being relentlessly targeted by an unseen spirit which starts to grow scarier, nastier and more violent.

The crucial question here - is this sequel as scary as the original 2013 box-office hit, The Conjuring?

The short answer is no.

It is hard to top the freshness, eeriness and remote setting of that first film, in which a frightened family with five daughters is so spooked in an isolated farmhouse in rural America that a pair of ghostly hands clapping suddenly in the dark remains etched as a classic horror moment.

Compared with that, this new urban locale of a corner terrace council house in London with the stricken residents able to flee across the street to their neighbours, just does not have that same ominous sense of helplessness.

But here is the deal - returning writer-director James Wan (also helming the upcoming Aquaman) is such an able horror master that this is still a scare flick notches above the usual fare.

In the show's scariest scenes, he understands well the implicit dread of the paranormal in the normal - check out a diabolical rotating lantern - as he stretches the suspense to a breaking point where the lingering unseen is far more unnerving than anything merely visible.

You marvel at the way his camera makes the constricted spaces of the terrace house look like a huge haunted manor of meandering fear.

The actual 1970s haunting in cynical, Thatcher-era Britain - dubbed the "Enfield Poltergeist" - is still considered by some detractors to be an elaborate hoax.

To them, the histrionics might have been due to the financial desperation of broke single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) and, significantly, the cunningness of her severely bedevilled daughter, Janet, flinging things herself and using ventriloquism to mimic demonic voices.

Meanwhile, you keep wondering why Janet's elder sister can sleep so soundly in the bed next to her despite some infernally loud knocks and why nobody would simply just take down the creepy teepee tent which would scare even in the brightest and happiest of times?

The Conjuring 2 feels like the middle-child instalment of a spooky trilogy, with presumably a final third part to give a sense of closure to the sense of doom surrounding the investigative couple.

It would mean that Wan needs to expand his horrormeister's bag of tricks out of the Haunted Little Girl's Bedroom he has so far boxed himself into twice.

But what he has most potently in his corner is his excellent combination of husband-and-wife ghost hunters.

Wilson's earthy Ed Warren waving the crucifix as a weapon is the perfect companion to Farmiga's sensitive Lorraine, who sees the unearthly happenings in a pall of inevitable gloom.

Her sad, worried eyes and perpetually haunted face are the real hauntings here.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline Horrormeister makes the unseen unnerving. Subscribe