THE CONJURING 2
Like The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 claim to be based on a true story but I have highly sceptical doubts about the claims that the Warrens make. It is important even before we get to a dissemination of what is depicted in The Conjuring 2 that the so-called facts be separated from what the film outrightly invents. In the realm of the basic facts, there was a haunting that supposedly occurred to the Hodgson family in Enfield, London between 1977 and 1979. There are photos of the family shown over the end credits and there is little doubt that the film has made a scrupulous effort to replicate the look of the house and street, their dress sense and everything right down to the posters on the girls walls. With the exception of the casting of Frances OConnor as the decidedly more frumpy Peggy Hodgson, all of the actors cast look physically like their real-life counterparts. The film replicates many of the numerous psychic occurrences that were reported noises, moving objects, the police observing a chair moving, the levitations and the possession of the daughter. The film also plays the actual recording of the taped interview with Janet talking in a deep voice over the end credits. The same incident was also depicted on film from the perspective of the British investigators in the British tv mini-series The Enfield Haunting (2015).
On the other hand, there is that which the film either invents. The Warrens did go to consult at Enfield, although were not the lead investigators (in fact, it is reported by those involved that they only visited for a single day. Perhaps the most damning statement about the Warrens involvement comes from noted sceptical investigator Joe Nickell who, was at one point threatened with violence by Ed Warren after casting doubt on his claims, who said that Ed Warren was notorious for exaggerating and even making up incidents in such cases, often transforming a haunting case into one of demonic possession). The Warrens did not drive the demonic forces out of the house in an exorcism that nearly wrecked the house; the only exorcism was far more mundanely conducted by a local priest and the ghostly presence supposedly departed of its own accord some time after. Many of the other things we see throughout such as a room of crosses turned upside down, the appearance of the Crooked Man or of Janet being teleported from out of locked room have been invented for the film. There was no secret audio-taped message from Bill Wilkins. The most notable fiction is that while the Warrens did investigate the Amityville incident, there is no story about Lorraine being haunted by a demon nun and having a premonition of Eds death (that was not even in the original script for the film and was actually added by James Wan following shooting to flesh out her character).
Certainly, you have to commend The Conjuring 2 for being faithful to many of the details of the case. The main problem is the balance of its interpretation. The film is certain about the actuality of the supernatural and has no lack of doubt that something happened at either Enfield or Amityville. In reality, both incidents are mired in considerable doubt. Sceptics and investigators conducted a thorough examination of the Enfield Haunting; some believed it was real, others were certain it was a hoax. One of the most damning arguments in favour of a hoax was the videotape evidence showing Janet throwing things around a room (which is faithfully replicated here, whereupon the film nimbly dodges this by inventing a piece of fiction about the possessing entity forcing Janet to fake it). There has been reasonable doubt placed on many of the things that happened such as that nobody directly saw any of the items move and tended to suspect they had been picked up by the girls and thrown when peoples backs were turned; that Janet would not produce the voices unless nobody was looking. The girls themselves admitted that they had faked some (but not all) of the apparitions because they felt under pressure from the investigators to have something happening. On the more credible side, Maurice Gross was certain to have not only seen small objects but heavy items of furniture moving (not something you would easily imagine children capable of throwing about), including an iron fireplace being wrenched out of the wall. One of the more credible accounts is of the police officer who saw a chair levitate several inches off the floor and move, although what exactly was seen varies from account to account and the officer later claimed uncertainty about what they saw. Illusionists who investigated came away certain that there was nothing they saw that could not be explained by trickery, while Anita Gregory (who was a believer in the paranormal) left certain that everything was a hoax. Interviewed in more recent years, Janet is still certain about the actuality of what happened to her credit, her story still holds up without inconsistencies.
The other major story that is wound in is the story of the Amityville haunting, which is recounted in supposedly true life films The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Amityville Horror (2005), as well as a long line of fictional sequels. This has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt to be a hoax the claims have been found to be contradictory on multiple accounts; things that been denied by supplementary witnesses and characters who appear in the book; and everything was later admitted to as being a hoax by the participants. The Warrens swore at the time that it was real and the film depicts everything as though it was. The film also replicates the incident where the Warrens claims about the Amityville house were attacked on a tv talkshow by sceptic Stephen Kaplan. What makes the film slip over into a pseudo-scientific interpretation is that we hear none of Kaplans quite reasonable reasons as to why the Amityville Horror was a hoax but rather we get Ed turning on Kaplan and questioning his doctoral credentials in other words, a good old dismissing of the content of the message by an attack on the bearers credibility. That this is the sole rebuttal the film chooses to offer from the Warren camp seems heavily disappointing.
The other thing that seems unpalatable to me is how this is now much more of a Christian (ie. Catholic) film than the first The Conjuring was. Lorraine was a Catholic and believed that hauntings were caused by demonic activity. In other words, to accept the credibility of the Warrens claims you are logically required to accept a belief in the actuality of the Catholic Church and its claim to be the voice of authority on matters of the supernatural. I do not and as a result everything that follows, which is seen through the filter of that interpretation, should be regarded with a healthy scepticism.
It is entirely possible to switch off and regard The Conjuring films as works of fiction. Many have, although my concern is that people take from it that they represent an accurate depiction of real world events such as that the Warrens were admired and dedicated investigators when the reality is that they never offered proof of any of their claims and many of these were self-aggrandising. I wont go so far as to call the Warrens frauds that it to say were telling lies and did not believe what they claimed but certainly they were more than happy to exaggerate or at the very least interpret ambiguous things as evidence. The second more dangerous aspect is that the films by their very based on a true story claims fool the unsuspecting into believing that they depict an actuality of the supernatural, good and evil, the afterlife, the existence of demonic forces and advocate for a Catholic/Christian interpretation of the universe. There is no crime in believing any of these but when people accept their reality based on a fiction or non-existent claims and with no sceptical questions asked, you have a right to be concerned.
All of that said, if you can tune these things out, James Wan delivers a fine and genuinely bone-rattling show. He has an expertise in delivering scares that is not matched by anyone else at work in the genre. Time after time he causes the audience to jump out of their seats with the appearance of the ghostly figure behind peoples shoulders, girls talking in deep voices, objects moving, a magic lantern shadow figure that feels like too much of an acknowledgement of inspiration to The Babadook (2014) stalking through the house and an especially unsettling scene where Vera Farmiga sees the ghost nuns shadow walk around a room and then take possession of the painting. The fact that many of these scares are often well worn ones and that Wan manages to deliver them anew with a great deal of intensity is all to his credit.
Within genre material, James Wan also directed Saw (2004), the vigilante film Death Sentence (2007), the ventriloquists dummy horror Dead Silence (2007), and the haunting film Insidious (2010) and its sequel Insidious Chapter 2 (2013). Wan has also produced Annabelle (2014), Demonic (2015), Insidious Chapter 3 (2015) and Lights Out (2016).
(Nominee for Best Director (James Wan) at this sites Best of 2016 Awards).