With The Conjuring 2, director James Wan returns to the kitschy 70’s paranormal playground that is his latest horror franchise hit with a worthy successor in the continuing misadventures of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
It’s obvious that Wan has a knack for horror (having previously created both the Saw and Insidious franchises), and with his latest film, it is apparent that he has mastered his craft. The Conjuring 2 is both frightening and heartwarming — something uncommonly seen in the horror genre — leaning hard into a building spookiness while leaving room for a cast of characters that’s worth a damn.
Our story picks up some years after the events of the first film with the Warrens at the height of their career investigating the famous Amityville Horror case. In what quickly becomes a truly gruesome scene (and one of my favorites in the film), we watch one of our leads, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), relive a spree of murders that occurred within the house only a few years prior.
This opening in Amityville serves as a nice nod to the Warren’s most famous case while also providing us with a glimpse of what’s in store for the ghostbusting duo. At the end of the vision, Lorraine is confronted by an entity in the form of a nun who will go on to haunt the Warrens, and even sees what could be the death of her husband. The Amityville case isn’t the focus in the film, however, as we transition to England to take on a similarly famous case called the Enfield Poltergeist.
The film splits at this point, half the time spent on convincing the audience that there really is something odd going on at the Enfield home, and the other half showing Lorraine Warren battling the demonic nun I previously mentioned. The Enfield house is home to the Hodgson family, made up of a single mother and her four children. Most notably is the youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), who has seemingly been possessed by the spirit of an old man named Bill that previously passed away in the house.
The Nun scenes are some of the scariest in the entire film (namely that painting scene), and especially impressive considering the menace was only added in reshoots incredibly late into production (some three months before its release). At the same time, the scenes at the Enfield house attempt to develop dread in the viewer, but I found the build to be too long and unfulfilling (perhaps in part due to the familiar nature of the story), making the end of the first act and beginning of the second a slog for me.
Once the Warrens arrive in England, however, I think that the film really comes into its own and gets very close to being every bit as good as the first entry, especially due to the exciting climax. And while none of the scenes here are able to match the incredible hide-and-clap scene from the first, The Conjuring 2 still offers up its own fair share of effective and creative set-piece frights.
One of the more memorable scenes sees a character from an old English children’s nursery rhyme, The Crooked Man, come to life. The entity is a sort of mix between the internet urban legend Slender Man, and the titular villain from 2014’s The Babadook. I really took to the stop-motion-esque movement and disturbing appearance of this character, making it really stand out from the rest of the film’s terrors. That The Crooked Man was done without computer enhancement makes it even more special to me (as a lifelong fan of practical effects), and actor Javier Botet should be applauded for his portrayal of the character. Bring on the Crooked Man spin-off film! (Unlikely, yes, but only because there’s already reports of a spin-off film chronicling the Nun from this film. While I enjoyed that character here… yawn.)
The character work and acting is every bit on par with the film’s ability to frighten you. The chemistry between Patrick Wilson’s Ed and Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine feels genuine, and it’s still a joy to watch their interactions. Even the children actors that make up the bulk of the Hodgson family are all good here, but especially young actress Madison Wolfe, who gives a dedicated and affected performance as the possessed Janet.
James Wan is good at making a scary film, but he is also scary good at handling his camera. The camera flows through the Enfield house with ghostly quality, making for some awesome tracking shots. Paired with the striking visuals that cinematographer Don Burgess displays here, The Conjuring 2 is a beautiful film to look at. And although I love that the camera is almost always moving, one of the most notable scenes in the film has the camera steady on Ed — in focus on the left half of the screen — as he interviews the shadowy, obscured, and unfocused Janet/Bill in the background.
The Conjuring 2 isn’t without its faults. The story the film tells is very familiar, it’s a good 20 minutes too long (134 minutes makes for an extremely long film in the horror genre), and I can’t help but feel that things also wrap up way too perfectly in the end. These gripes are minor, however, as Wan and Co. have crafted a well-made, fun, and scary poltergeist film with this decidedly solid sequel.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor