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As we noted in a feature last week, there are a few tricks in horror movies that, thanks to endless repetition, just aren't scary. This is particularly true for the haunted house genre, which is a group of movies that have collectively featured thousands of beds floating in the air and possibly millions of chairs moving all by themselves. Director James Wan knows these are clichés that aren't nearly as effective as they used to be, but there's a very simply explanation as to why they are included in his new movie, The Conjuring 2: they're part of the account of what happened in the real Enfield Poltergeist case.
James Wan and I had a pleasant chat about The Conjuring 2 earlier this month during the film's press day in Los Angeles, and it was while talking about his particular approach to scares and general terror that the filmmaker began discussing some of the more well-worn tropes that are in the feature. He stressed that he is constantly looking for new and different approaches within his movies, but he also recognizes the restrictions that come with both basing his film on a true story and the genre in which its categorized. Said Wan,
I'm well aware that I'm working in a very strictly confined sub-genre, that of the haunted house, that of ghost stories, hauntings, right? They come with very stringent tropes, and on top of that I feel like I couldn't really deter too far. People kind of complain that the movie deals with sort of the classic cliches of banging doors, moving furniture, and I said, 'Go online, that's what all these families say!' So I don't know. I don't want the house to implode on itself. That would be very original, but it wouldn't be true to what has been documented. I kind of needed to partially stay true to the story, quote-unquote stories, that have been documented, but at the same time, I'm trying to find something different still.
As James Wan suggests, when doing a side-by-side comparison of the events shown in The Conjuring 2 and the actual Enfield Poltergeist case, you can see how the need to adapt some of the bigger clichés was necessary. Some significant and creepy examples of the real case include a police officer seeing a chair slide all by itself, and Janet levitating in her bedroom -- and both of these events made their way into the movie as a result.
The Conjuring 2 was in some sense limited by the less interesting details of the Enfield Poltergeist case, but part of the reason the film works so well is because it A) hinges so much on the relationship between Ed and Lorraine Warren, and B) has enough creative scares to balance the tired ones. Because of this, we're more than happy to see these movies continue, and see James Wan explore more of the Warrens' case history.
If you're up for a scare, The Conjuring 2 is now in theaters.