SHOCKing Set Report: THE CONJURING 2

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SHOCK steps onto the set of the highly anticipated THE CONJURING 2.

After 2013’s first installment of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s spectral investigations, we are eagerly awaiting the next chapter of the paranormal pairings’ journey into the void with THE CONJURING 2.

THE CONJURING 2 is based on the claims of poltergeist activity that happened in August 1977 when single mother Peggy Hodgson called police to her council rented home in Enfield after two of her four children claimed that furniture was moving by itself and violent knocking was heard on the walls. The disturbances claimed to become increasingly ominous when demonic voices were heard and children were levitated. The story attracted ample media attention at the time.

We were lucky enough to obtain a set visit to Warner Bros studios in Hollywood where sound stage 4 had been eerily and precisely transformed into 1977 Enfield, England, where the haunting that is the basis for this foray takes place…

The production design is impeccable and walking around the exterior of the set of the council home one really does feel that they have been transported in time, place and mood. The precision and detail that has gone into the creation of the home’s dreary surrounds and somber stonewalls is faultless. The dark garden surrounding the home swiftly transported this writer to the grim and gloomy terrain of an unloved English council house.

Once inside the actual set of the house you get a sense of the feeling of a dank environment with furniture of that period decorated throughout. The production designer used muted tones and darkness to give the viewer a sense of how small the house actually was. Part of this is served by the telling of the story itself with the low lighting and staining on the walls.

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In order to accommodate the actors and crew, the rooms were cheated to be considerably larger than the actual house. In one corner of the room there is a chair with what looks like mildew growing up the walls behind it. For those familiar with the Enfield case, it is a replica of the chair that Bill Watkins died in, and it was his voice that Janet Hodgson was claimed to be channeling during the haunting. At the time of the actual case, a recording of the voice was taken to Bill Wilkins’ son who listened to the recording and said ‘that’s my Dad’. Bill’s wife went out to get milk one day and came home and found him dead in the chair. That’s exactly how it is recreated in the film, and there is a reason that the corner where the chair sits is particularly blighted and that’s because that’s where Bill Watkins passed.

The day of my set visit I was able to get a peek of the Enfield Poltergeist manifesting itself in one of the children on a monitor that was feeding what was happening on set. The scene that was playing on the small screen to an exclusive team of journalists is the first time Ed and Lorraine witness a physical manifestation. The Poltergeist physically traps Madison Wolfe who plays Janet (Hodgson) behind a door. It is from there that the Warren’s try to extricate her.

According to reports from the set of THE CONJURING there were a few spooky encounters that happened on set, and the theme of real life supernatural occurrences continued on the set of THE CONJURING 2. Stage 4 at Warner Bros where CONJURING 2 was being shot is notoriously haunted, apparently the most haunted on the lot. So it came as no surprise that during the set visit we were informed that there had been reports of drilling and hammering underneath the stage when there was no one working. This, along with a bizarre incident when Leigh Whannel (INSIDIOUS) came to the set to visit Wan – the INSIDIOUS photos that Whannel had shot during his production showed up on his iPad, yet they were not on his computer and he couldn’t get them off – make for interesting real life haunting fodder. According to the films publicist it was not part of James Wan’s master plan to deliberately shoot on the most haunted stage, although Frances O’Connor did divulge that a priest did in fact bless the set at commencement of production.

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Although Wan was busy on the day of the set visit, we did manage to sneak a glimpse of him in his directorial mode. In the scene that was shooting when we took a walk on set, Wan was working with the children who play the Hodgson siblings. Wan’s relaxed and amicable personality filters through the set creating what seemed like a very relaxed environment and the laughter that was emanating in between takes from James and the younger cast members was strangely not in kilter with the incredibly macabre subject matter and eerie look of the surrounds.

For Frances O’Connor who portrays Peggy Hodgson, the single mother of the family who experienced the poltergeist, it was with a little hesitation that she approached the role after watching the first CONJURING. “ I was a little trepidatious because I grew up a Catholic so I kind of believe in some of this stuff, but I did love it as a film. I love that it was a period horror. I think that’s really interesting and kind of fun. I was terrified when I watched it.”

When asked how heavily she researched the real family O’Connor said “ I live in London so I got to go to Enfield and I went to the street where it all happened. I looked at all of the online material that is available, and I read This House Is Haunted which is an account from Guy Lyon Playfair, one of the psychic investigators.”

In terms of the relationship between Peggy and the Warren’s, O’Connor elaborated, “ I’m playing Peggy and she’s a single mum with four kids. They have no money and they’re in a very stressful situation, very fractious. Our relationship with Ed and Lorraine is they are these Americans that have come across – and they are quite glamorous in some ways – how they dress etc. So for us it’s a little overwhelming that they’re in our house and they’re going to help us. But they’re such lovely people and we instantly feel that they genuinely want to help us. It ends up being a good relationship that we have with them”.

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With ‘based on true story’ films, one has to wonder how much artistic license is taken with story to make it vastly more entertaining for an audience “Some of the events in it are from the accounts, but it is a film (laughing) so its been jazzed up here and there, but I think it comes from an authentic place in terms of the seed we started with and it kind of expanded in terms of an event happening in the house”.

When asked about Wan’s directorial style, O’Connor likes to put Wan in a similar realm to Spielberg who she worked with on 2001’s A.I. ARTFICIAL INTELLIGIENCE “ He’s such an all-rounder. He’ll hone in and give you two notes, and then you’ll see him go to the camera department or lighting, all the different aspects of when you’re shooting a shot. He’s just on top of it all. I feel like he kind of edits in his head. I think Spielberg does that a lot too. He seems very calm. He just loves being on set. It’s a nice environment to be in. Even if it gets stressful, it’s motivating I think for actors.”

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In terms of the action that occurs throughout the film, many of the scenes sound like they stay true to the first CONJURING maintaining the theme of realistic and non grandiose effects that were part of what made the first installment all the more creepy. There is one scene that involves O’Connor that shows her talking when a chest of drawers violently slams across the room achieved by the use of invisible wire. The practical effects are something that Wan feels like if its actually happening on set, the relationship to the audience is that they feel it’s really happening too. He thinks the audience can somehow subconsciously know when something’s CGI.

For Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson it is their second time walking in the shoes of Ed and Lorraine Warren. For Farmiga it does not feel like it has been three years since she was last working with Wan “It feels like yesterday. I’m very close with Patrick (Wilson) and James (Wan), so just partnering up with Patrick is like stepping into your old comfy pair of shoes. He’s a good friend. His wife is one of my best friends. We have a blast doing it. It’s dark. Exploring negative mysticism is not fun. It’s arduous and its emotionally taxing, but in between takes you’ll see, we’re so silly. We’re very close with Lorraine (Warren), she’s a good friend of mine. I suppose that closeness to her also helps me with the role. She’s a phone call away, so it feels like a switch I can flip on”.

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For Patrick Wilson it is a joy to be back in the zone of Ed Warren, and he feels that the quality of the sequel will be on par with the first.

“We had such an amazing time on the first one and the care that they had with this script and the support from the studio, and of course James’ vision, it all came together. It’s nice when the movie works, not only creatively but also commercially, you have this feeling of, well great, it’s not like we just skated by with the first one. We dug in deep, so we’re doing the same for the sequel. I did have to go back and look at my performance. I got a lot more Ed Warren DVD’s and Cd’s so I could just hear him talk again and get back into him”. Although Wilson has worked with Wan on INSIDIOUS as well as The Conjuring he is not an avid horror enthusiast “Nothing against the genre, but I don’t see a lot of horror movies. After the first INSIDIOUS he (Wan) came to me with this and said, ‘I’ve got the rights. I want to do it and I want you to be Ed’, and I remember thinking, are we going to do a sequel to INSIDIOUS which he wasn’t sure about at that time. This was before I read the script, so I really didn’t understand that aside from them both being in the horror genre that they’re pretty far apart.”

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In terms of where Ed and Lorraine were left at the end of the first film and how they ended up taking on another case Wilson added, “ I think we get into where, that scene in the first one where she had been through so much trauma and did not want to pursue this anymore, and we push that even further. I think they’re constantly in that battle of trying to raise their daughter and yet this is their calling and how do they remain good parents. They are towing the line between, not just being there, but really dealing with some very emotionally disturbing events that can take its toll on the family. We definitely pushed that.”

One of the things that enthusiasts of the Warren’s story will be looking forward to in this film is that the Amityville case is touched on. Wilson was fairly tight lipped about any logistics of how that case is being played out but did say, “Well, I won’t give all of that away, but it was a big case and a controversial case, and that’s one of the things that James loves to do. He is not afraid of the controversy. It’s not like, well we can’t bring that up because there have been 77 movies. No, they went to Amityville, they have very strong feelings about Amityville, so we went for it.”

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One of the younger cast members, Madison Wolfe who plays the role of Janet Hodgson was able to share some insight into her character, “She (Janet) was eleven when this took place. Her and her siblings start to experience different things. At first they think of it as coincidences, but it begins to increase and get scarier. I am nothing like this character and I completely transformed to do this role. I’m wearing colored contacts and I have fake teeth and speak with a British accent”.

Considering the story mostly comes from Janet’s claims it would be easy to assume that the movie is told from Janet’s perspective. According to Wolfe, this is not necessarily the case, “I don’t think it’s necessarily from my perspective, but it does have a lot to do with her and her siblings going through these events, and Ed and Lorraine helping them. The story itself feels different to the first one, but there are things that we do on purpose to connect it with the first one, so it is like a sequel.”

James Wan’s star seems to be on a constant ascendance, and by the look of how he had this set running, it would seem that he is maintaining his golden touch. For now we will have to patiently await this highly anticipated follow up…

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Weekend: Sep. 19, 2019, Sep. 22, 2019

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