The Conjuring, directed by James Wan, came out in 2013 and was a surprise summer hit, scaring audiences, doing good business, and receiving critical acclaim. It was a legitimately scary movie; I remember one particular scene involving a wardrobe froze me in my seat and sent goose bumps radiating from my spine out to my extremities, something that rarely happens with how many movies I have seen. It was a refreshingly old school horror movie, and it made this list of my 15 favorite horror movies this century that I compiled last year. There was a lackluster prequel that came out in the fall of 2014, Annabelle, that was only tied to the film because of the Annabelle doll from the first film. Wan has returned to the director’s chair this time for the sequel, The Conjuring 2.
The opening of the film features a prologue of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) investigating the Amityville murders in 1976 to determine whether there was a demonic presence in the house at the time of the murders. During a séance, Lorraine sees a demonic figure dressed as a nun and has a vision of Ed dying. Shortly after this, across the Atlantic in 1977, the Hodgson family begins experiencing strange events in their home, particularly the second oldest of the four children, Janet (Madison Wolfe). Things quickly escalate from having bad dreams and speaking in her sleep to sleepwalking and progressing towards possession. It drives the family out of their house and to their neighbors. With Janet’s mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) at her wits end, the church quietly brings the Warrens into the picture to investigate, despite their reluctance to do so as Lorraine is increasingly haunted by the evil she experienced in the Amityville house and a possible link begins to appear between both cases.
To his credit, James Wan, who cut his teeth as a horror director on Saw, has really established himself as a master of the genre, even as he has branched out to other kinds of films, having helmed last year’s Furious 7. He has also made the two Insidious films. He as really honed his craft, knowing how to play with audience expectations and anticipations of scares and still provide scares and thrills. Horror movies have been around about as long as the film industry itself, and audiences today, especially ones that are fans of the genre, are well versed in the beats of a scenes.
Wan has found a way in his better directorial efforts, and this is one of them, to change up those beats, to hold the payoff of the scare just a bit longer than when the audience expects it. This has the added effect of making the scare feel bigger because even though it is expected, the delivery still manages to catch the viewer off guard. One scene that really hammers this home is in the opening when Lorraine looks into a mirror and sees someone who is not there. She turns to look behind her and sees nothing, looks back in the mirror and the figure is closer. And then he begins to play with how many times she is going to look into the mirror and how close is this figure going to get.
On the flip side of that, he also speeds things up in other areas, further subverting genre conventions and audience expectations. A lot of horror films would draw out the parental figure believing their kids when they say that something involving ghosts is going on in the house, and have no manifestations of evidence occur when the parent is there. But that is not the case here. Likewise, when the police arrive, the expectation is that they will not find anything. This is also subverted.
This film is as effectively scary as the first film, even though the novelty is worn off and has been replaced by a certain level of audience expectation. My one hang up with the film is that is makes a link between the events in the prologue with the Warrens and the events happening to the Hodgsons. I have no knowledge of the actual events the film is based on, but making this connection felt like a questionable step too far.
Farmiga and Wilson make Lorraine and Ed complimentary pieces to each other and the film stresses how important that connection between the two is and how they balance each other out. Madison Wolfe’s Janet, the girl caught at the center of it all, is also pretty good at conveying not just the fear or her experience, but the fatigue of it, as does O’Connor as the single mother. It’s a nice touch that when the Warrens visit them that they do as much to make them feel as much like a normal family as possible and give them support and structure as much as investigate what may be going on.
There are plenty of chilling scares and thrills in The Conjuring 2. It is a worthy follow-up to The Conjuring. At its center is a family in need of help, and two people who are willing to help how they can. It is a welcome addition to the horror genre, given the quality of most mainstream horror films. Horror films seem especially rare for the summer movie season, so it’s also nice that this one has managed to carve out its own place in the summer. I don’t know if there are other stories from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren that are film-worthy, but if there is another one, I will likely find myself back in the theater for it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars