And for their next trick…
The Conjuring’s paranormal investigators are coming to Britain for the sequel
The power of box office compels you! The power of box office compels you! Back in 2013, James Wan’s ’70s-throwback horror The
Conjuring did phenomenal business, eventually racking up a $318 million worldwide. So it’s not exactly a shock that it’s spawned demonic offspring. What might surprise you is that The
Conjuring 2 sees paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga) crossing the pond to Britain, to investigate another incident from the real-life couple’s casebook: the Enfield poltergeist case, recently dramatised as Sky Living miniseries
The Enfield Haunting.
For producer Peter Safran, following up the first film’s New Hampshire hauntings (based on the 1971 case of the Perron family) with one of the UK’s most well-publicised paranormal incidents was a no-brainer.
“It was an easy one,” Safran says. “We wanted something that was very different from the Perron family case, which was quintessentially American. The fact it was set in London gave us a different environment to play with, a different time period and a different political situation. Plus, it was such a well-known story, we thought it was a worthy successor.”
Not familiar with the story of single mother Peggy Hodgson and her four children? Then allow Peter Safran to set the scene for the sequel, which takes place six years after the events of the first film:
“It’s 1977, England. They live in Enfield – council housing. Strange goings-on start. Ed and Lorraine are called in by Father Gordon [the priest from the first film], and he plays them a tape…”
Said tape features the ranting of a foulmouthed old man.
“Ed says, ‘It certainly sounds very disturbing.
I think he’s probably senile.’ And Father Gordon says, ‘That’s a 12-year-old girl.’ So that’s the set-up. They say, ‘We want you to go to England to observe this case as instruments of the Church… go and see what’s really going on down there.’”
TO THE STUDIO
And go the Warrens do – although for the most part, the production didn’t. While principal photography did conclude with three days of exteriors shot a couple of streets from where the Hodgsons lived, the interior of their Enfield council house was recreated on the Warner lot in California – largely for practical reasons, as director James Wan explains.
“I don’t think I could shoot in a location that’s the right size as the real location! My film crew alone would take up the whole living room – I would have nowhere to put the actors! So just from a cinematic standpoint you have to cheat a bit.”
That set received perhaps the ultimate test of its authenticity when the sisters at the centre of events, Margaret and Janet Hodgson, were invited over to pay a visit.
“It really was an extraordinary experience,” Safran recalls. “We obviously designed it around the pictures they had and the stories they told us. To see it 38 years later was a wonderful thing for them.”
The sisters’ trip to LA also involved a very special reunion – with the real-life Lorraine Warren. Peter Safran’s fellow producer Rob Cowan was present.
“When they met Lorraine, they got really emotional,” Cowan remembers. “They all gave big hugs. They hadn’t seen each other for almost 40 years. They were chatting away for hours on end together. And the sisters told us how much Lorraine had helped them throughout that time period. Margaret in particular got very teary-eyed. Janet sent us a note afterwards saying it had brought back a lot of the memories of what had happened to her. I think she found it very cathartic.”
According to Peter Safran, having Lorraine Warren herself – now 90 years old – available to consult with has been a big help to the filmmakers too, in terms of giving this franchise a sense of verisimilitude.
“When you talk to her,” he says, “Whether it’s about a specific case or just in general, it gives you that authenticity that other films don’t have. She gives you the little details about what she and Ed would do, how they would think about things, how they would talk together and discuss options.”
In general, the approach on this film has been to stay true to the, ahem, spirit of the story while (of necessity) compressing the timeline, and also inventing certain details to surprise.
“Because people know certain events, you feel beholden to show them,” Cowan says. “There’s a famous documentary that shows the police talk about seeing a chair move in the house, so you feel you have to show those things to reward people that know the real story. But there’s other stories that have been told to us that aren’t out in public.”
“Also, what we’re really trying to do is capture how the kids felt. So we’ve come up with things to show that. We take their stories, amalgamate them, and come up with fresh new things that tell their story without telling things that everybody already knows about.” It sounds like the approach has paid off. “When she saw the movie, Margaret came to me and said, ‘This is exactly how we felt when it was going on.’”
Although the British setting is one significant difference between The Conjuring 2 and its forebear, a sequel needs more than a
It’s unlike any horror film you will ever see. It’s outrageously eclectic!
change of location to avoid it feeling like a mere retread. Thankfully there are further points of contrast – starting with the characterisation of the heroes.
“Ed and Lorraine Warren are such fascinating characters,” Peter Safran says. “I think we all hoped while making the first one that we’d have the opportunity to build on that. And you’ll see in this movie we give them a lot more depth than they had even in the first one.”
Star Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren) tells us that the new film depicts a deepening love between the couple, and also addresses the fact that in the six years since the events of the first film, the Warrens (like their real-life counterparts) have attracted sceptical media attention – something James Wan was keen to address.
FURTHER THAN BEFORE
“I confront a guy who’s a non-believer and thinks I’m lying,” Wilson explains. “A lot of aspects of Ed are pushed to the limit. There are moments of levity that you saw in the first one that we’ve pushed a little further. James very much wants to push the envelope, so that’s what you see with Ed – those things that you glimpsed in the first one, we cranked all those things up. And I think you see an even stronger bond between Ed and Lorraine, and a stronger friction in terms of what’s right for the cause and for them as people. ” There’s also something of a switch from The
Conjuring’s firmly female-centric focus.
“With the first film it was five girls in the family, the mother was the core centre, and the story on our hero’s side was much more about Lorraine,” Cowan says. “And it was about a witch, Bathsheba, and this old woman downstairs and a girl who slit her wrists. This one is taking more of a shift towards a male point of view and male relationships. Patrick is doing much more of the heroics. There’s a little story in the movie about Ed Warren and the relationship with his father. And the demon that you’ll see is male-orientated. So there’s a much more male theme to this movie.”
Well, that makes a refreshing change, eh ladies…? But don’t worry, Vera Fermiga (Lorraine Warren) hasn’t been rendered completely redundant. And she’s banging the drum for this movie so hard she’s in danger of wearing out the skin…
“Honestly, what’s the point of a sequel unless you can out-gross, out-story, out-heart the original?” Fermiga says. “We were so eager to bring our A+ games and strive for more, push boundaries and reach further and go deeper. We really go for it this time around, and I’m very proud of it. I think it’s unlike any horror film you will ever see. It has those elements from the first one but it’s so much more captivating – we push it into a different arena. There’s a lot of humour, there’s romance… there’s even a musical part. It’s outrageously eclectic, and horrifying! I just saw it yesterday for the first time and boy… I had the worst night’s sleep of my life!”
Will the eventual box office receipts give the producers sleepless nights? Unlikely. Possessed-doll Conjuring spin-off Annabelle raked in over $250 million in 2014; a follow-up may be lensing by the time you read this. So can we expect more movies set in the Warrenverse? Highly likely. And the next one might not even have anything to do with possession or restless spirits…
“I think the notion would be to take it off in a different direction again,” says Cowan. “Still the same idea with the Warrens, but find something fresh. There’s a ton of information – they’ve got werewolf stories! There’s lots of different directions to go with them…”
The Conjuring 2 opens on 17 June.
Not sitting down for a jolly dinner party.
Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) gets cross. “So tell us more about your furniture…” Some kids have such messy bedrooms…