I have an enormously, wretchedly conflicted relationship with the Conjuring franchise.
On one hand, I love everything about the first movie. Ghost stories are my favorite of basically any kind of narrative ever, and I adored just about every detail of The Conjuring – from the glorious Lili Taylor and her sympathetic family, to the amazing bond of love and faith between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, to the completely believable performances from everyone involved, to the sheer creepiness at every turn. I have watched The Conjuring a dozen times and I never get tired of it.
On the other hand, all this love for the first movie doesn’t play well with my utter blood-in-the-eyes rage at the fact that Ed and Lorraine Warren are (or were, in Ed’s case) real people who made their living selling vulnerable, frightened, superstitious people a crock of particularly evil bullshit. It’s really almost exactly like watching a movie that casts an amazing actor in the role of Donald Trump and takes enough storytelling liberties to turn him into a deeply sympathetic and lovable character, possibly saving kittens from trees and single-handedly preventing 9/11. As much as you might adore the character onscreen, you can’t get around the fact that it’s supposed to be Donald fucking Trump, and the cognitive dissonance is not pleasant.
So it was with trepidation that I queued up The Conjuring 2. Would it, like The Conjuring, be awesome enough to make me forget I was watching a whitewashing of the Donald and Melania Trump of the paranormal world? Could my heart-deep love for Farmiga and Wilson in anything they do keep my “BUT ACTUALLY NO” rage in check for 134 minutes?
Well, the answer is yes and no.
The whole thing with the Amityville Horror tie-in just pissed me off, as Amityville Horror related things are wont to do. Because: you know who else were real people? The DeFeos. And an unfathomably horrible thing happened to them, and they still have living family who lost loved ones, and those children who were gunned down in their beds by their own brother deserve better than to be a punchline or a plot device. You want to talk about the Lutzes and their campaign to bilk the mortgage company out of an astronomical loan? Open season. Have at it. But for fuck’s sake have the decency to leave real-life murdered children, real little corpses buried in real graves, out of it.
Eventually, though, the Amityville nonsense went away, and I was reminded of how in love I am with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga and the amazing relationship between their characters. Basically, Patrick Wilson did an Elvis impersonation and sang “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and Vera Farmiga stared at him all melty-eyed, and that was it for my resistance.
Oh, wait. There was a plot here. And to be honest, it wasn’t that awesome a plot. There was a nun whose scariness seemed limited to glaring at people, and a Crooked Man whose scariness was limited to, I guess, snarling at people, and a hapless old dude, and a foreboding-looking tree trunk of the Poltergeist variety. There’s also the whole story of the Enfield Poltergeist, which is mostly just an unconvincing frame for Vera Farmiga vanquishing a demon. The plot was okay, I guess, but not a patch on the first movie. Also, if I were Vera Farmiga, I would have beaten the living fuck out of a husband who chose the life of a random kid who was probably faking it over our daughter’s right to grow up with her father. All in all, it was fine, but not a patch on The Conjuring.
So what’s the verdict? Three stars. It just barely kept me from projectile-vomiting rage blood all over my TV at the sheer assholery of the real-life Warrens. A tiny bit less well-crafted, cast with actors the smallest bit less talented and believable, and this would have been an utter exploitative cluster-fuck of a movie. James Wan seems to have a gift for crafting movies that avoid catastrophe by the narrowest of margins, and this was one, but I hope the next movie in the franchise serves him better than this one.
PS: I am totally single, Patrick Wilson. Just saying.