Last night we spotted that Sky Movies were showing The Conjuring 2, based on the true events of the ‘Enfield Hauntings’ in north London in the 1970s.
In the case, an ordinary family appeared to be targeted by ghostly and/or poltergeist activity in their home, and called in help in the shape of ghost-hunter Maurice Grosse and some specialist paranormal investigators from America. The whole thing was made into a TV series (starring Timothy Spall) a couple of years ago, so whether or not you believe the events were genuine or a massive hoax, it was interesting to compare and contrast the series with the film. (There’s a fascinating article, by Will Storr who was researching a book on the case, on the possibilities of fakery, if you’re interested.)
For starters, where the TV series concentrated on Mr Grosse’s efforts to help the family, the movie focussed on the American couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren, who’d helped investigate the Amityville horror. Presumably this was so that the film could be more easily marketed in the USA, with an obvious American link, and it was interesting to see the haunting through the eyes of other, different people. However, there were times when it took the focus away from the actual events of Enfield, and may have contributed to a more formulaic, ‘horror movie’ approach.
Where the tv series took a more balanced, down-to-earth view (that the hauntings could, just possibly, have been faked), the film plunged in with a more stereotypical approach: that the paranormal elements were genuine, and that anyone who didn’t believe them was either foolish or controlled by demons. As a horror movie, it worked well enough. You rooted for the family who were being demonised (in more ways than one) and wanted everyone to believe their story. However, as a portrayal of true events it was less successful, because it was so sensationalised that you assumed it was all just movie gloss and special effects. The real-life story of real (and very frightened) people got lost in the noise, sometimes literally.
The ending of the TV series also worked better, with the revelation that Janet, the child most associated with the paranormal activity, had quite possibly been faking some of the effects. Maurice Grosse was left with the unshakeable belief that there was something unexplainable going on, but he couldn’t prove it, and ended up having to walk away. In other words, exactly as it would be in real life.
The movie, however, went off into full scale standard horror film hysteria about twenty minutes from the end, with characters rushing about and screaming, people insisting on going into dangerous situations without so much as a torch, and the demon attacking people willy-nilly, often in different places at the same time. In other words, it was all very frantic and rather silly, and I found myself chuckling at the overdone, even hackneyed effects.
This is a shame, because the rest of the movie is unsettling, genuinely scary and a good re-telling of the Enfield case. It’s perhaps just a shame that they bolted on too much of a cut-and-dried Amityville ending to what was otherwise an intriguing and insoluble mystery.