If only Bollywood’s horror films were not so afraid of the dark. Here is why we can never make a trueblue shiver-giver like The Conjuring. We are so obsessed with ticking off all the boxes in the Book Of Horror that we forget to focus on the actual fear of the unknown. Put in another way, the Indian horror industry is so inured in the familiar, it makes the fear of the unknown seem like a premeditated rollercoaster ride rather than a genuine exploration of the supernatural.
The Conjuring 2 is not the least interested in impressing us with its undoubtedly impressive grip over the grammar of the horror genre. There is a history to the horror here, yes. And in a truly shocking prologue we are familiarized with the previous exorcising excursion of the couple Lorraine and Ed Warren (played with a scrubbed neat conviction by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson).
With brutal yet graceful directness we are dragged into the world of the dead and the semi-dead where spirits roam with creepy casualness in homes that seem as comfortably familiar as yours and mine. Having provided a ruthless trope, the narrative effortlessly sets the stage for the couple’s next act of exorcism in a disturbingly normal London suburb lined with identical houses.
How is one to know that of them is ….brrrrr….haunted?
Director James Wan’s high-points in the plot are never accentuated. Almost no effort is put into creating banner-announcing suspense or building up to those moments where we are meant to jump out of our skins (and we do, oh yes believe me, we do!). It’s in searching for spiritual anomalies in the routine existence that Wan gives us the most chilling treatise on terror seen screen (so go ahead, scream) in the last ten years.
While the 2-hour film is designed to coil itself around our fear bones there is no dearth of warm humorous moments in the plot if we look for them.
“He has taken all the music away,” says the single mother Peggy (Frances Conner looking a tad too distraught all the time) of 4 very bright children, about her estranged husband. Taking the poignant revelation as a metaphor for the family’s lost happiness exorcist Ed Warren promises to restore happiness into the family by getting rid of ….errr, ghosts from the past.
“No, I meant he took all the records and cassettes including our favourite Elvis Presley,” replies the anguished mom used to dealing directly with four demanding children, and now an uninvited spirit in their home.
This ‘music’ exchange is an exceedingly funny moment, and the kind of tangential humour that director James Wan insinuates into the plot with devilish ingenuity. Though the fear-fest flags off in 1977 nowhere is the signpost of periodicity flashed into our flushed faces. The songs from that era like Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ and the Bee Gees’ ‘I Started A Joke’ are so naturally assimilated into the storytelling we are never allowed to feel distanced from the joy sorrow and fears of the characters.
Patches of the clenched plot are almost like scintillating spoofs on spook. And yet we never cease to be spooked…not when little possessed Janet is played with such tender sincerity by Madison Wolfe. My heart reached out to Little Ms. Wolfe in that fabulously formulated scene in the wing with Lorraine Warren where Janet talks about how isolating it is to be possessed by a demon. In her innocence and vulnerability to the diabolic attack on her person, Ms Wolfe reminded me of that other satanically possessed little girl Linda Blair in the that other milestone of the supernatural genre The Exorcist in 1973.
As Wan gets into the swing of things the brisk narrative transforms into a trot and finally into a breathless last act which is guaranteed to give the weak-bladdered a run for the loo and the cynics a run for their money.
It’s hard to say what makes The Conjuring 2 so infinitely terrifying. A primary factor in its favour is the unassuming tone of narration which yokes the horror of the humdrum into the resilient spirit of routine life. Just as the family under satanic attack refuses to be bullied by the spirit in their midst, we are never bullied into being scared.
This time the terror is on the house.