The director of The Conjuring 2, James Wan, made his name in the dark corners of the multiplex. The creator of the Saw franchise, the surprisingly effective Insidious, not to mention this films startlingly uneasy predecessor, The Conjuring, looked like he'd moved on from scaring the bee-jezus out of us when he moved on to the constantly improving Fast & Furious saga.
Even though we come to these films for scares, we've seen enough to know what to expect. Whether it's the disquieting silence leading to the loud jolt or the preying on our primal fears, there's not much new. So rather than throw out the book on horror, Wan tears out a few pages and grafts in those from drama. Hollow scares are rawkus. Like a rollercoaster, it allows to experience the perils without the danger. But what then if you feel close to those putting themselves close to the peril? What if you feel just as anxious around the creaking, banging, rolling fire engines and disturbing goings-on?
The answer is genuine terror. After adding the pressure in both the Warren's and the Hodgson's lives, we then watch in dread as the screws are tightened repeatedly. If you're terrified from the safety of this side of the projector, imagine how they must must feel!
The Conjuring and it's sequel probably have more in common with The Exorcist more than it does with any of the Friday night Fright-Fests we're so accustomed to. Instead soundtracks are unsettling cacophonies of choir voices and rather than play out glossy, well-lit scares we see events unfold in alarming matter-of-fact scenes.
So then, The Conjuring 2 jumps into the setting of the renowned Amityville Hauntings - hinted at in the conclusion of the first Conjuring - where Ed and Lorraine Warren continue their perilous work with more malicious spooks. Even from the outset the dread is nearly overbearing and a less obvious foreboding is gently pushed in front of our scared noses.
Once we're caught up with the Warren's and the fall-out from their altruistic ghostbusting, we move then to London - or more specifically Enfield - where the Hodgons are living just above the breadline. The house of the Enfield Hauntings have been fairly well documented, but never in such straggly and sooty detail. It's never lingered on, but the walls are infested with rot - paint pealing and wallpaper chipped. Second-hand furniture you'd probably rather not sit down on and grimy floors that already add to a feeling of unpleasantness. It's a superbly crafted aesthetic.
Amongst it's genuinely threatening scares and taught steering through the terror of the Enfield Haunting, there are some mis-steps. One manifestation looks like it's straight from a Tim Burton sketchbook and although you can excuse it as an apparition, it's at odds with the realism that's been set up. There's also a woefully sobering music cue toward the films conclusion that smacks of Exec interference. However, you will rarely find a horror movie so involving or fraught with terror.
4* - Nightmare on Green Street