In 2013, Master of Horror James Wan terrified audiences with The Conjuring, a story based upon real-life husband and wife duo Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who handle paranormal cases for those struggling against forces of evil and are unable to contend with said forces on their own. Despite being unfairly saddled with an unjustified R rating, The Conjuring still went on to become a critical and box office success, and spawned its own spin-off film as well.
This summer, the highly anticipated The Conjuring 2 arrives in theaters on June 10th. The sequel has reunited Wan once again with Wilson and Farmiga, whose characters are now dealing with an entity known as “The Enfield Poltergeist”, which terrorized a family of five in London in the late 1970s. And while fans can expect more scares and chills courtesy of Wan and his imagination, what was very evident from our recent set visit is that we shouldn’t expect a retread of what we saw in the original Conjuring at all.
According to producer Peter Safran, The Conjuring 2 will still focus heavily on the connection shared between the Warrens, but fans should expect something very different than the first film. “It was really important to James [Wan], if he were to come back and direct it that this would be a worthy successor to the first one. The first one was so well-received by both fans and critics, I think what worked in it was really the character development and spending the time to get to know the Warrens and their subjects and when they come together, it creates something real. We actually cared about them.”
“So in this one, in the development of the script, it was incredibly important to all of us that we build the true family relationships that existed. We spent a lot of time talking to the family and understanding what they went through in 1977 and that brings a lot of authenticity to it, which is what we did in the first film, too. We also spend a lot of time talking to Lorraine Warren, who tells us all these stories of how it was working with Ed on these cases and then the writers can weave those into the script.”
During our set visit, Wan and his cast and crew were in the middle of shooting a harrowing basement scene, complete with water flooding the set and a very ghoulish presence waiting beneath the watery location. According to Safran, that entity is none other than “Old Bill”, who is based on the rumored real-life terrorizing force behind “The Enfield Poltergeist” back in the late seventies. And while he is the main villain in The Conjuring 2, Bill is only one of the film’s villains that the Warrens must contend with, and Safran discussed how they had to be conscientious of not making just another movie about demonic possession that fans have seen over and over again.
“There are a lot of things you have to avoid because people have seen so many possession movies,” explained Safran. “In the first movie, for example, they drape a sheet over Lili (Taylor) for her exorcism. That wasn’t something that hadn’t been seen during an exorcism, because that’s your typical third act of a possession movie, so we wanted to do something a little different and avoid the typical stuff. I believe in this film. We’ve again found a worthy successor to that climax, but I obviously can’t spoil it too much. I can say it’s not your typical hold up a cross, sprinkle holy water around and say ‘demons be gone’ type of thing.”
For Wilson, while he was happy to return to the role of Ed for The Conjuring 2, he was thankful that the sequel was going to mix things up, especially in regards to the film’s villains and how physical things would get each day on set. “This film is a different beast, literally. It's a different case. It's not handled the same way and that's one thing I really loved about this. There's a lot more going on.”
“Without giving too much away, the character beats that we pushed—we've also pushed a lot of the physicality, a lot of the stunts even, in this film, too,” added Wilson. “When you think of one of those unbelievable shots in the first one with a stunt. We've all done a lot and I've personally done quite a bit, too. We can't re-tread the same thing. I can't just be there with a Bible at the end giving an exorcism. There are certain rituals that you do, but obviously every case is different. You have to fight them in different ways and this film furthers that.”
There’s no doubt that it was Lorraine Warren’s gift that fueled the Warrens’ profession in dealing with unholy forces, and Farmiga discussed how both Conjuring films explore the emotional toll that her abilities took on her and how they continue to explore those ideas in the follow-up.
“I think the older she got, the more depleted she became,” Farmiga said. “It’s spiritual warfare we’re talking about. It takes a toll on you physically, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. It’s draining, and we continue with this thing that she saw and explore what that is. It still plagues her, so yeah, you will see an unravelment with Lorraine. It never got easier with her. This kind of work never gets easier.”
“Her instrument’s fine-tuned, but it takes a beating. She needs these tune-ups, and just a break, and obviously she never got one. Lorraine is so plagued. Even to this day, when I go to her house, she won’t go downstairs. She won’t go to the artifact room. I mean, why have it in your house to begin with is my question, but she won’t. She’s very haunted by all of this—and you will see that. It will continue to be an emotional rollercoaster for Lorraine, because that’s just the nature of her business.”
The case of “The Enfield Poltergeist” also took a huge toll on the family at the center of it all—Peggy Hodgson and her four young children—and Wilson discussed his experience meeting Hodgson’s two daughters, who still have to live with the ramifications of what happened to them in London over three decades ago.
Wilson chatted about the meeting, saying, “When Jen and Margaret were here, it was a much different experience than with the Perron girls when we met them, because Jen and Margaret were still very much in it in a strange way. You see how it really took a toll on them and the feeling that they had—because Lorraine was here too that time— was very open. They all hugged each other right away, it was very emotional for all three of them, reuniting. Whatever your skepticism is, whether you believe in this or not, there was a situation where this one older woman (Lorraine) desperately tried to help these girls, and that's huge. That's enough for me to realize they were in it for the right reasons. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we're making a ton of money out of this family.’ You could tell it has worn on them.”
“Ed and Lorraine were there to help. I don't think that they were going to go those lengths, of flying over to London and everything, if they didn't think there's something real. They tried really, really hard and you only do that when you really care. So I just tried to believe that as I'm playing Ed because it was a long, long process for everyone,” added Wilson.
“The Enfield Poltergeist” case is one that was riddled in a lot of skepticism throughout the years and that is something that The Conjuring 2 will address fully. “This is a very Google-able case, so in the screenplay we wanted to address a lot of the things that came up in a search, just like the first movie,” explained Safran. “And in this case, whether or not this situation was a hoax was very prevalent at the time, so you can’t hide from that. We definitely address that in this film.”
Someone else who has experienced her fair share of skepticism throughout the years is Lorraine Warren. Farmiga, who has sparked up a friendship with Lorraine over the last several years, discussed whether or not that skepticism has made any sort of impact on her work or beliefs.
According to Farmiga, “None of that ever made a dent into what she knows and has a conviction of. She has a full-blown conviction that this is an ordained position, that each of us have gifts, and if you don’t utilize them, they whittle away. And this is her gift of sight. It’s the physical danger that she was in, and Ed was in too, at all times that hit her hardest. I have these tapes in my trailer of the actual recorded sessions, and these voices you hear… at times it’s actually quite light-hearted and corny. They call Ed names and make fun of him, they have a sense of humor. It’s so funny.”
“And we’re friends, but she’s older now and her memory is not as keen. A lot of times when I’m talking to Lorraine, it’s just about perennials and what annual flowers she’s planted in the front garden, and where do I get my wigs for Norma Bates, sharing meatball recipes and stuff like that. I really rely on the reading material. It’s anguish. I know that in the stuff that I’ve read—and, again, whether it’s madness, whether it’s negative mysticism that gets ahold of someone—it is sheer spiritual anguish to feel that on behalf of someone. She feels all of this. It plays on her emotions, on her body. She feels it physically.”
“I just saw one of the episodes on Sally Jesse Raphael where they received a bunch of skepticism. If you look at her, she never lost her cool. Ed lost his cool quite a bit. She was just so secure in her gift. There’s a reason she was the go-to medium for decades. She was the one police called. I don’t think she had anything to prove to anyone, but to whatever entity was in the room.”
“But I also have to play to the truth of what happens in our script,” added Farmiga. “It’s a combination of that. I have to stay true to that. But Ed and Lorraine had an extraordinary love, they were an extraordinary duo. They were such a dynamic couple and they had a fierce love for each other and they had a best friendship. All I had to do, really, is keep that in mind.”
One of the newcomers to the world of The Conjuring is Frances O’Connor (The Missing), who portrays the matriarch of the Hodgson family and relies on the Warrens’ expertise to help deal with the demonic forces torturing her young children. O’Connor discussed the headspace of her character once we meet her in The Conjuring 2 and how she approached the role of the embattled mother of four.
“In this story, Peggy’s a single mom who’s got four kids, and her husband left her for another woman,” O’Connor discussed. “She’s just trying to raise these kids and it’s quite a stressful situation already. She really has just given up everything to keep her kids happy and keep it all on the rails, in this suburban London place. She’s had quite a tough life.”
“It’s slightly daunting playing a real person, but playing a real person with someone involved in something so scary also makes it terrifying. That was actually more in researching it, because when you’re in the film and working on it, it’s actually a lot of fun.”
“Before I came out here from London, I actually went up to Enfield and went up to the house just to have a look at the house and that whole neighborhood,” said O’Connor. “That was good to be there, to be on the actual street and stand next to the house and look up and go, ‘Wow this is real, this place existed.’ I walked around the neighborhood of that area and just listened to people talking and just sat in a café to get a feel of how people talked and the vibe. It has changed a lot.”
After the success of the first film, there was never any reason to doubt whether or not fans would see a sequel to The Conjuring, but of course Wan’s participation was up in the air initially due to his involvement with the last Fast & Furious film that made him a highly sought after director. Wan’s accomplishments on Furious 7 meant that he certainly could have had the pick of the litter when it came to his next project, but instead he decided to return to what will hopefully become the third successful franchise that he’s launched within the horror genre.
Safran discussed how The Conjuring 2 was going to move forward without Wan in the director’s chair, but his decision to return to the sequel added so much more to the project than just some great scares.
“We were going to make it no matter what,” Safran explained. “It would be a completely different experience, though, because it’s such a luxury to have the guy who is working at the absolute top of his game doing exactly what he does best. It’s really rare. We were so lucky to have him on the first one, we never thought we’d have him back for the second one, truthfully. And he came back because he had something to say. He said he’d only come back if he felt he could make a movie that was worthy of being the successor to the first one, where he could make a character-driven movie that was also the scariest movie you’ve ever seen.”
“We were shooting on the stage this scene where Peggy, the mom, is standing outside her daughter’s door, knocking, and she can hear her crying inside. James came up to me after and said, ‘That scene is why I came back to do the movie’, because it was just this beautiful, touching family moment and it really spoke to the state of despair that this family had dropped into, that the Warrens helped them with. And that’s the reason why it’s great to be making this movie with James. We’d still make a scary movie, but it would be a different movie without him. None of us kid ourselves that we’re lucky to have him and Vera and Patrick all back to turn this into a franchise. What we had before was just one really outstanding movie; it’s the second one that makes the franchise. And that’s what we have with this group that we brought back.”
Both Wilson and Farmiga discussed their thoughts on reteaming with each other, as well as with Wan. For Wilson, who has now worked with Wan on four different projects, he saw James’ passion as a huge reason to reprise his role as Ed Warren.
“James lives, breathes, and eats this. It takes a toll on him. He sleeps basically only on the weekends. His schedule is crazy and he puts everything he has into it. Even if he felt like he could just walk through a movie and be like, ‘Ugh, I've done a huge one, I'll just hammer this one out.’ He'll be the first to tell you, this is harder than any of us expected.”
“When I sat down with him a year ago, when he decided to come on, he said to me, ‘I really want to make it great.’ He just burns for this. When you have that passion, it doesn't matter what genre it is. I've always said, even before he did Furious 7, the way he sets up his horror movies and his scares are the same way that you set up an action movie with the set pieces. It's the same; we're going to have this amount of action sequences so this can build them and block them. That's the same way he does with the scares. He's very methodical like that.”
“It’s just masterful, what James is doing here,” added Farmiga. “He knows the script, and to see how to tweak it and how he puts his spin on it is just wonderful. It’s just a good fit. The three of us are a very good fit, and so, yeah, I’m thrilled that we’re all back together.”
While it may be a bit early to call The Conjuring a successful franchise, that doesn’t mean producer Peter Safran isn’t already cautiously looking towards the future either. When asked about another sequel, he said, “We haven’t decided yet. We’ve talked about what might happen in the world of the Warrens, we spun off with Annabelle, which will also get a sequel. In terms of what a third Conjuring would be, we haven’t delved into that yet. It all depends on where inspiration strikes and it’ll be driven somewhat by James. We’ll figure it out. The Warrens are a great resource, but there aren’t that many unique cases. You have to make sure you come up with something that’s worthy of The Conjuring franchise.”
A New Line Cinema film, The Conjuring 2 will be released in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures on June 10th. Below, we have an image gallery from the film that includes two brand new photos:
Photos courtesy of Matt Kennedy / Warner Bros.: