A Review of The Conjuring 2 by Nick Olszyk
MPAA Rating, R
USCCB Rating, A-III
Reel Rating, Three Reels
Unfortunately, there has never been a truly great exorcist movie. The Conjuring 2 makes a worthy effort, is better than most, but still falls short, though in ways different from its predecessor. As a representation of deliverance ministry, it makes some intriguing observations and does nothing to threaten the faith. Yet, it also surrenders with complete abandon to common misunderstandings of the subject to serve its narrative, similar to the angel-man Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life. Only this time, it’s a demon in a nun costume.
Six years after their encounter with the Perron family, spiritual detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) have crossed the Atlantic to examine a series of paranormal events in a working class London flat, home to Peggy Hodgeson and her four children. Lorraine is hesitant at first after a series of terrifying visions that she interprets as omens of death for her husband, but eventually agrees to visit “only to observe and report.” “We have to help if we can,” her husband smiles. Unlike the previous case, which was fairly obvious, director James Wan focuses on the details of the investigation. Can the Warrens proved there are demonic forces at work? This process includes skeptics, like Anita Gregory (Franka Potente), who manages to film one of the teenagers faking a poltergeist. This is unusual for a story in this genre but wonderfully fitting. Real exorcists are trained in this mindset and should be “the last one to believe the case is possession.” While the audience is always aware of the truth, it takes the Warrens much longer. Yet as the film reaches its climax, a huge twist in the narrative is reveled which on the surfaces seems ridiculous but still has me thinking about it days later.
Surprisingly, the best aspect of The Conjuring 2 is not its special effects or the intelligent directing but a strong affirmation of the spiritual power of sacramental marriage. It is rare to see a film depict romance between a man and woman who are already married, nearly unheard of for a horror movie. Midway through the film, Lorraine speaks to Janet, the afflicted teenage girl at the center of the activity. She is scared, shy, and feels desperately alone. “No one believes me,” she says. “No one believed me either when I saw things,” Lorraine tells her. “Then I found someone who did.” “What did you do then,” she asks. Lorraine smiles. “I married him.” The Warrens are able withstand such tremendous evil because their strength comes from a covenant relationship that puts God at the center of their lives. This is the opposite of the Hodgeson family, whose father recently left them for his mistress. It is even implied the reason Janet and her sister got involved in the occult was due to his absence
While their marriage is the Warrens’ greatest strength, it is also the reason, oddly enough, there are virtually no lay demonologists. In fact, apart for the Warrens, I cannot think of a single other example. The reason is that families especially are prone to attack. Lorraine’s love for Ed makes him as easy target for manipulation. In addition, laymen cannot legitimately perform exorcisms or even blessings, although this is constantly portrayed in both films.
The primary benefit of The Conjuring 2, even if far overdramatized with plenty of theological holes, is that it demonstrates the reality of evil. In a world that is surrounded by tremendous cruelly, man needs art that strengthens faith. Yet The Conjuring 2, and every other exorcist movie, goes only partway. It shows the evil but not the redemption. Yes, the demon is expelled and God is credited with the win, but the demon is graphically depicted with special effects, sound design, and constant manifestations while God seems silent. It would do well for such a film to allow Heavenly glory to be depicted in even more splendor.
As a work of cinematic entertainment, The Conjuring rises slightly above the rest, confident in its skill but hesitant to reach for anything extraordinary. Without giving too much, the force afflicting the Hodgesons is just a ghost nor a demon but possibly…both? I don’t know; it’s pretty strange. Yet even something that leads the viewer from apathy to pondering is a good thing, and anything that will keep away men from the occult and encourage good marriages is a really good thing.
This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on June 22nd, 2016