“Horror movies sending chills down the spine” may be clichéd, but have you ever wondered why that happens? Think of your dog, when a stranger passes your gate. It barks, seemingly angry or afraid, and the hair on its back stands up as a response to fear. This happens in many animals and is called the pilomotor reflex, and it occurs to make the animal look bigger and more intimidating to their opponent. This hormonal mechanism, through the control of the hypothalamus, is caused by a literal adrenaline rush, and thanks to evolution, those physiological effects still exist in us.
Plot: The Exorcist in London
Happily, that tingling sensation came wave after wave for me while watching the latest horror offering The Conjuring 2. A cut above the normal schlock we get in our cinemas, director James Wan brings us the second installment in the franchise, moving the action from America to the UK, playing around with stories about a real life haunting of a family in the north London suburb of Enfield. Ghost-busting couple Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) reluctantly travel across the pond to help the Church with what they are afraid might be a hoax; a young girl Janet seems possessed by the spirit of an old man that threatens to kill her family living in the house.
We have seen all of the elements here before, the language of film exorcism so entrenched since William Friedkin’s genre defining movie. How it all works is in the clever direction of Wan, putting lighting, music and acting to good effect. Here is a horror movie that does not rely on computer generated imagery. Wan leaves off showing the nasty ghouls for more than just snippets, a skill other horror directors need to learn. CGI bad guys tend to be so weightless they remind me more of cartoon villains from Scooby Doo rather than of anything genuinely scary. Wan’s playing with peek-a-boo suspense not only gets the instinctive fear hormones flowing by jump-scares (when scary images surprise the viewers suddenly), but also builds up a spookish atmosphere of tension.
A Cast to Die for
Furthermore, the acting is a class above, led by the underrated but charismatic Farmiga and Wilson. I am always thrilled to see Maria Doyle Kennedy (from Orphan Black) and Franka Potente (from Run, Lola, Run) even in minor roles. Wan can learn to plump up character development though, with many characters being very thinly drawn and forced to spout uninspired dialogue.
Sometimes We Need a Good Shake
If you fancy a scream fest, bolstered by our very animated local audiences, The Conjuring 2 will be a test for your larynx and eardrums. I love how a decent horror movie exhibits how affecting in a physical sense good film making can be. Fight or flight, the choice is yours.