Based on a true story? Well, use of the word "true" might be debatable for some, but director James Wan didn't take many shortcuts when trying to translate the infamous Enfield Haunting onto the big screen, even displaying the real-life photographs and locations against the ones shown in the movie during the end credits.
Granted, there's the typical Hollywood glamorizing that went into casting and narrative, which hasn't changed since the first Conjuring. And of course, there's just the small tidbit that most everyone in the world has called the paranormal investigators of these movies, Ed and Lorraine Warren, utter con artists rather than ghosthunters with a heart of gold. That's at least one aspect of the movie that feels like a smart pivot. Check out the trailer below, if you haven't already, for The Conjuring 2.
And read my review: The Conjuring 2 is well-crafted horror and business as usual for James Wan.
As for the Enfield Haunting itself, much of what the movie shows us is based on the real accounts given by Peggy Hodgson, the single mother who lived in the public housing that became a haunted nightmare for the family living there.
For that reason, we actually don't know if some of these accounts given by Hodgson and her children are at all accurate; well, except for the ones that were debunked later on and admitted to be pranks by the kids themselves.
Warning: Minor spoilers for The Conjuring 2 from this point forward. There'll be a separate warning for bigger spoilers toward the end.
First, let's point out that...
1. The timeline isn't quite right
This is a minor detail made for the sake of the movie, but it could very well affect your overall opinion of the Enfield case. The hauntings do begin at the same time, which is around August of 1977.
But the rest of the movie covers less than half of a year at the very most, showing a condensed passage of time with the media frenzy that erupted over the haunting, which actually took place over the course of two years and didn't subside until 1979.
Does this make much of a difference? It could, considering how odd it is that the haunting wouldn't have escalated quite as dramatically over two years based on how The Conjuring 2 makes it seem like the family is in mortal danger every few minutes.
2. Ed and Lorraine Warren had very little to do with this case
There's a reason the movie begins with the infamous Amityville case and its aftermath, because most of Conjuring 2 has to keep going back to the Warrens' story across the Atlantic as they deal with how traumatizing it was for Lorraine. Framed as the "English Amityville," the Enfield Case had many paranormal investigators swooping in from all over the globe.
Yes, the Warrens did drop by at one point in 1978 according to one of the investigators, Guy Lyon Playfair. But according to him, the Warrens showed up "uninvited and only stayed for a day." Even worse, Playfair claims:
"All I can remember is Ed Warren telling me that he could make a lot of money for me out of it. So I thought, 'Well thats all I need to know from you' and I got myself out of his way as soon as I could.
Dave Schrader (who hosted an interview on Darkness Radio) even asked him whether or not Ed Warren had good intentions, and this was Playfair's answer:
"No, they just wanted to make money out of it."
He claims that the Warrens simply wanted to insert themselves into the investigation, and it didn't work. Playfair even doubts that the family had ever heard of the Warrens.
Needless to say, "based on one of the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren" is very much fiction, though the movie tries to lampshade this by claiming the Warrens weren't at all interested at first because Lorraine was still reeling from the Amityville incident.
3. The film follows most of what the Hodgson family claimed happened
A lot of the details in the movie, like how the supernatural problems occur after the girls play with a Ouija board, are straight from the accounts of the Hodgson family, especially Janet and Peggy. They did flee to the neighbor house like they did in the film, witnesses claimed hearing "whistling" and "knocking on the walls" as it happens in the film, and so on.
Other, more extravagant occurrences, seemed to have been included into the movie, though they're few and far between. The scene in the trailer that depicts the crosses on the wall turning upside down, for example, has no basis in what the girls say happened, though the room really did have crosses on the wall in the first place.
The movie also mentions the infamous "levitating" photograph, which was taken of Janet while she was supposedly being possessed. Critics have rightfully pointed out that the girl looks to be jumping from her bed, which is also mentioned in the movie, funny enough.
4. A policewoman actually witnessed the activity for herself
As it happens in the movie, WPC Carolyn Heeps claims she saw an armchair levitate and move across the floor on its own, citing there were no wires or tricks to be found about it. She even signed an affidavit to confirm it.
And Heeps isn't alone. As it's stated in the movie, there are over 30 witnesses who all claim to have seen supernatural activity of the same nature.
Warning: Milder spoilers from here on out!
5. Janet Hodgson did use a creepy voice on national television.
In interviews and throughout the investigations, Janet used a deep-throated voice to make herself sound like the spirit who haunted them. You can also see in the interview below that the movie followed Janet's mannerisms and claims quite faithfully.
6. It's true that Bill Wilkins died in their home.
Bill Wilkins's son Terry confirmed that the man truly died in that bloody chair of a brain hemorrhage, according to Daily Mail. As you heard in the video above, Janet claims to have been possessed by Wilkins, leading many to believe this lends credibility to the case.
Of course, even the movie's onscreen skeptic points out that Janet could have heard about Wilkins from a neighbor, and it would have been very easy for her to fake the voice in order to keep the frenzy going. Still, the movie pays close attention to Janet's specific recollections, even adding her claims that when the "voice" came over her, she felt like something was behind her.
Final Warning: MAJOR spoilers from this point forward!
7. Janet Hodgson really was caught faking the whole thing, and more than once.
The investigators in the movie catch Janet bending spoons and flipping tables on video, making it clear to them that she was faking the activity. This also happened in reality, with Maurice Gross catching Janet and her sister faking it more than once in the same manner.
Even Janet has admitted that "some" of the events were faked, even though she vehemently remains convinced most of it was for real, including her possession.
From Daily Mail:
She told ITV News in 1980: ‘Oh yeah, once or twice (we faked phenomena), just to see if Mr. Grosse and Mr. Playfair would catch us. They always did.’
Some have theorized that the girls faked some of this activity because they liked having Maurice Gross around all the time as a "surrogate" father, which is somewhat hinted at in the movie.
8. The haunting sort of stopped, but not really.
The movie offers something of a conclusion, in that the demonic spirit is vanquished by the Warrens. But it also points out at the very end that Peggy Hodgson remained in the home to live out her days (which is true) and died in the same chair as Bill Wilkins.
This follows the truth of it (somewhat), because the Hodgsons have claimed over the years that while most of the haunting stopped after a priest visited them in 1978, activity still occurred in the home for the following decades to a lesser degree.
What did the movie leave out?
A lot, actually. At one point, Janet was sent to a psychiatric hospital where they "stuck electrodes" in her head. But the tests proved normal. The movie also leaves out that Janet's sister, Margaret, also had the poltergeist communicating through her.
She married a milkman at age 16 and lost a son who died in his sleep at age 18. Johnny, her younger brother, died of cancer at age 14, and her mother, Peggy, died of breast cancer in 2003 (in that ridiculous, bloody, chair).
Is it all a hoax? It's hard to claim that the entire case was just faked by this family considering all evidence to the contrary. But it's more impressive how well-documented this case was, which resulted in a movie that manages to capture some of the story's most compelling moments without drifting too far into absurd realities.
You know, except for the part where the Warrens are somehow decent human beings.