Ghosts? A dime a dozen. Demons? Old hat. Possessed ventriloquist dolls? There’s one in the spare bedroom.
Yep, Ed and Lorraine Warren—paranormal sleuths, demonologists, exorcists and (to their critics) publicity hounds—have seen just about everything the supernatural world can throw at them. They’ve busted more ghosts than Peter Venkman, dealt with more mind-bending spirits than Tom Cruise in Cocktail. And, of course, they’ve seen their share of frauds, too.
But here’s the funny thing about when the paranormal becomes, well, normal: The murky world beyond takes notice. And some of its denizens don’t take kindly to mortals getting all up in their business.
While wrapping up a certain case in Amityville, N.Y., Lorraine has a vision of a chalk-white figure wearing a nun’s habit. The nun is no kind, guiding spirit: She attacks Lorraine and begins to haunt her dreams and visions. Ed senses it, too. Even though he’s never talked to Lorraine about this particular vision, he’s seen the same figure in a dream—a dream so disturbing that he paints a picture of the specter in an effort to exorcise it from his mind.
Lorraine fears it’ll take more than paint to shake this nun. The entity seems to have more on its mind than just scaring the tar out of the couple. When it visits Lorraine, it comes with visions of its own—visions of Ed’s horrific death. And Lorraine, fearful of losing her husband, suggests they leave off with the demon hunting for a while. Maybe forever.
Alas, the spirit world doesn’t rest just because the Warrens do, and soon the Catholic Church asks them to investigate a case of paranormal activity in the London bureau of Enfield. The Hodgson family—a single mother and her four children—are being plagued by a poltergeist who says he wants his house back. The doors are knocking. Toys are moving. Beds are shaking. One of the kids—11-year-old Janet—has reportedly been bitten. And sometimes the child seems to speak in a strange, guttural voice not her own. Is it all an elaborate prank played by an imaginative, disturbed little girl? Or could it be that the house is haunted? That the family is in danger?
The Warrens agree to visit the Hodgsons in England—but only to observe, not to take action. They’ve played in the supernatural world long enough, and they’re thinking that playtime is over.
But someone … or some thing … has another game in mind.
Whatever the entity in Enfield is—playful poltergeist, crafty demon or attention-seeking 11-year-old—the Warrens want to do whatever they can to help sort it out. They’re a very helpful couple on a whole host of levels, really, and whatever needs doing—fixing a leaky pipe, honing their Elvis impressions to give the kids a much-needed laugh or tracking down a sinister specter—Ed and Lorraine will do it, even at great peril to their own lives.
That said, the Warrens aren’t cavalier about their well-being. They care very much about each other and put a premium on each other’s safety. There are a few, fleeting moments, in fact, where The Conjuring 2 feels almost as much like a romance as it does a horror flick. Ed and Lorraine look at each other lovingly. They talk about how they were meant for each other. In words and actions, they bear out Matthew 19:6, becoming “no longer two but one flesh.” The verse continues with, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Or ghost, either.
The Conjuring 2 is an inherently spiritual story, filled with ghosts and demons and other supernatural elements. But this horror tale also comes with an inescapably Christian bent to it.
The ghost haunting the Hodgsons is that of Bill Wilkins—a man who apparently died in the same beat-up easy chair that still graces a dilapidated corner of the living room. He is (it’s suggested) roused by Janet and her older sister, Margaret, who play around with a homemade Ouija board. He communicates through Janet, moves furniture (sometimes quite forcefully) and, as mentioned, occasionally bites.
More malevolent is a demonic figure that often dresses as a nun.
These supernatural beings don’t have much fondness for Christianity. When asked why he doesn’t simply move on, the ghost (speaking through Janet) says he’s “not a heaven guy,” and when a crucifix is brandished at him (again, while he’s possessing Janet), he cowers and speaks what seems to be gibberish.
After Janet and Margaret vacate their bedroom—seemingly the most active room in the house—the family decides to festoon the walls of the room with crosses. When asked if the crosses put an end to the disturbances, mother Peggy Hodgson sadly says no, and in one creepy scene, all the crosses slowly rotate on their own to hang upside down.
Still, there’s no question about who’s really in charge here: God. The Warrens are Christians, and they go into these situations armed mainly with their faith. Ed relates how, when he was a little boy, something grabbed him under his bed. His dad forced him to face his fears (with the help of a crucifix he still wears), telling Ed to tell the thing to leave or face a God who was going to “kick its butt.” Prayers are said to combat the supernatural evil in play, and a demon is confronted by way of its proper name. Lorraine reads a Bible.
The Catholic Church shows a willingness to help the Hodgsons, but a priest tells the Warrens that they need to first know if the home’s supernatural issues are real. A paranormal researcher talks about his dead daughter, and he longs to prove “beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a life beyond this.” (He expresses his belief that his daughter, after she died, was trying to communicate with him.)
There’s talk of a white light during a “protective” séance. Lorraine says their adventures in Amityville were “as close to hell as I ever want to get.” Ed reassures Lorraine regarding her visions, saying, “If God is showing you my death, it’s for a reason.”
The Warrens sleep in a pair of twin beds in the Hodgsons’ house. Ed tells Lorraine he’s not sure he can spend the night so far away from her. Lorraine saucily quips that it’ll give him something to look forward to when they go home. Camilla, a friend of Janet’s, discusses her plans to sneak out of her house and perhaps let a boy French kiss her. The two are unfairly mocked for being “lesbos” by classmates. We learn that Peggy’s husband “had twins with the woman around the corner.” A comical cross-dresser appears briefly on a television screen.
The Conjuring 2 is more frightening than grotesque, but the threat of violent death is pervasive and twice in visions we see someone skewered through the chest by a huge, pointed hunk of wood. Also in visions, someone’s head is snapped back in a violent, disturbing manner. In a flashback/vision, five people, sleeping in their own beds, are shot: Blood stains their pajamas and, in one case, spatters a headboard.
An evil entity forces someone to choke herself. Dishes and furniture are thrown about violently. Two people are bitten, leaving painful-looking puncture wounds. A girl is thrown into a wall. Others are thrown into and buried under furniture. A character seems to get attacked by the draperies.
Someone gets wedged into an almost impossible position in a closet. An unexpected burst of hot water is temporarily blinding. People find themselves pinned to ceilings and yanked, somehow, into locked rooms. They’re threatened with knives. We hear about a death. Spirits “verbally” threaten the living.
British-leaning profanities are more common than American ones here, with characters uttering “bloody” half a dozen times and “w-nker” once. We hear “a–” and “h—” twice each, along with a few misuses of God’s name.
Camilla smokes. She makes Janet hold her cigarette—just as a teacher comes around the corner and catches them. The horrified teacher pushes them toward the school to get their punishment, but then picks up the cigarette and takes a long drag herself. Later, Janet’s mother, Peggy, scolds the girl for smoking—while smoking a cigarette herself.
Janet’s brother Billy is bullied (because he stutters). [Spoiler Warning] Janet is caught fabricating a poltergeist incident—breaking dishes, turning over furniture and bending knives when no one is looking (except for the video camera positioned outside).
Not just ghosts stalk The Conjuring 2. There also lingers a sense of uncertainty—doubt as to whether these ghosts and demons are really there … or whether the whole thing is just an imaginative prank perpetrated by a disturbed little girl or a hoax carried out by a desperate, publicity-seeking family. One doubter, parapsychologist Anita Gregory, outlines why she’s skeptical of the Hodgsons’ claims and wonders aloud what’s worse: “Demons or the people who prey on [others’] belief in them.”
“The demons,” Lorraine tells her, matter-of-factly, “are worse.”
So they are.
The Conjuring 2 is based, loosely, on a true story—one of the most famous, most documented cases of a supposed haunted house on record, a closing slide suggests.
If you look at the actual case history, you’ll find that much of the documentation leaves lots of room for a practical-joke interpretation. Pictures of the real Janet Hodgson supposedly levitating could just as well be her jumping. Tapes of her channeling Bill Wilkins could be the product of a strange, otherwise documented abnormality in her larynx. Years later, Janet admitted to The Daily Mail that she had indeed fabricated at least some of the home’s supposed paranormal activity.
But in the movie, there’s little question that the demons are real and really, really, really bad. And to face real-life demons—not bullying or broken families or adolescent insecurity that we might metaphorically refer to as demons, but literal denizens of hell—you need help. You need God. And, yes, The Conjuring 2 explicitly says so, wielding more explicitly Christian content than many a “Christian” movie. Its writers, Chad and Carey Hayes, are Christians, and even secular reviewers have noted the thread of faith running through the film. Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman says the movie offers “a helping of reassurance to go along with the fear. If there are ghost demons out there, then God must be out there as well.”
That’s a lovely lesson to learn in a horror movie, for sure.
But for Christians who already know God is out there, do they really need to face these cinematic demons? The Conjuring 2, like its hide-behind-the-seat forebear, is a truly frightening movie. Director James Wan—who directed the original Saw and both Insidious movies—knows how to scare an audience, how to agitate moviegoers. He’s proved with both Conjuring movies that he doesn’t need a lot of gore to tell a truly terrifying yarn. But don’t think that the lack of gore makes everything OK.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.