Thank Hell for Little Girls
Warning: This review discusses aspects of the plot.
James Wan’s follow-up to his horror smash hit is another well-crafted exercise in writing around a documented hoax, literalising the claims of the deviant, deluded and mentally ill, to indulge the ‘I want to believe brigade’. His original movie cast cynical dispersions on a Rhode Island father who may circumstantially have abused his wife and children, instead imagining that a demon was, as the perpetrator claimed when addressing the gulls of Middle America, responsible for the bruising, bedwetting and damage to property. Who believed him? Ed and Lorraine Warren, Ghostbusters, here again made pretty by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.
In Part 2 they’re excusing the actions of North London girl, Janet Hodgson, one of many mannered cockneys populating the film, who in 1977 japed that she’d been possessed by the spirit of the old man who once occupied their Enfield council house. Before long her sisters were in on it, claiming their beds had been shaken by a malevolent presence. Finally, Mum Peggy, in life a plump and dumpy pearly queen, in movie land, Frances O’Connor auditioning for EastEnders, ignored the voice in her head that suggested her husband’s departure and new family might have sparked a thirst for attention, joined the fray and maintained the house was beset by inexplicable phenomena, including furniture that seemed to move itself, “levitation” events, and that old poltergeist calling card, breakages.
This being a horror franchise, Wan and writers Carey and Chad Hayes, have cleverly taken all the doubts and apparent evidence of fraud, including an incident in which a cameraman caught Janet faking the destruction of her kitchen through the window, and built setpieces and plot points around them. So in the fantasy version, Bill the spirit’s insistence that he’ll only talk to the assembled company – the Warrens, a local paranormal investigator – with their backs turned, becomes a terrific scene in which Janet’s soft focus image, over Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, slowly takes on the form of the old man, remaining eerily obscure. Janet’s red-handed demolition of the kitchen is recast as a sinister piece of supernatural manipulation, a threat from the spirit that he’ll hurt her family if she doesn’t cast doubt on his presence and force the help to leave. By weaving the fantasy around the reality this way, Wan fluffs those who innately distrust the grounded and banal, who’d rather graft on their superstitions. The result’s one of his best haunted house larks, a movie in which his experience with the genre pays uncanny and dread soaked dividends.
Some of the contortions are too much, even for bullshit specialists. In an attempt to give the Warrens their own arc and not have them be mere passive bystanders in someone else’s cor blimey experience, Wan links the haunting with an Amityville prologue that sees Lorraine Warren plagued by a Nun Demon, who warns her off messing with the dead by prophesying the death of husband Ed. It’s not clear why the evil Nun would bait a trap several thousand miles away, when presumably it could attack a local family, or elaborately use another ghost as a cover for its sinister scheme, but if you believe in ghosts (or want to), you’re probably not that interested. ‘Don’t worry about this feeling a little forced or tacked on,’ says Wan, ‘just enjoy being spooked’.
Aside from a few misjudged moments, when Wan remembers that characters aren’t mere props for jump scares or the shivers, and insists on giving them emotional moments, we enjoy The Conjuring 2 very much. The maestro’s made so many of these movies now, he can do it down the phone, but there’s plenty of craft in the shocks and the perfectly integrated practical and visual effects, even if we’ve seen Wan’s box of tricks many times before.
Though the layout of the Hodgson’s real Enfield home is unknown, it’s likely it wasn’t nearly as big as the one we see here, but if it didn’t have a long creaky staircase, whiny doors, a waterlogged basement and an imposing landing with a creepy tent at the end of it, Wan wouldn’t be able to command the space as he likes to do – sliding between rooms, around corners, moving into nooks from across a room. This is the man’s bread and butter and no horror director working today is quite so adept at playing with interiors as he. Consequently, if there’s another “true story” to be told, Wan’s the man to tell it. Just don’t ask too many questions about the source material.