“But I can’t help falling in love with you..”
In 1977, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren come out of a self-imposed sabbatical to travel to Enfield, a borough in north London. There, they meet Peggy Hodgson, an overwhelmed single mother of four who tells the couple that something evil is in her home. Ed and Lorraine believe her story when the youngest daughter starts to show signs of demonic possession. As the Warrens try to help the besieged girl, they become the next target of the malicious spirits.
The law of diminishing returns all but condemns sequels to mediocrity. In today’s modern cinematic culture, it becomes an arduous task to overcome the stigma of a sequel, particularly so when the original is a work of art that helped usher in a new hope to an entire genre. The Conjuring 2 had a mountain of a task heaped upon its shoulders the second it’s very existence was announced. Since 2005’s Saw, James Wan’s name has become synonymous with horror. He could have very easily been denigrated to helm the new brand of “torture porn” for his entire career, but Wan refused to rest on his laurels. Instead he has continually provided us with new and innovative tales, and his own style as the backdrop. Finding ways to incorporate multiple themes that transcend typical genre schlock, Wan has repeatedly served up incredibly designed set pieces with a dramatic flare for the terrifying. The Conjuring seemed like it may have been the antithesis, the exclamation point to Wan’s illustrious tenure into the horror genre. After moving forward into action films and decreeing his departure from horror, genre fans cried foul as it seemed they had just lost one of the greats to bigger and better things. However it appears he couldn’t ignore the call to return and elected to provide his highly sought after services in a sequel to a masterpiece of genre theater.
The Conjuring gave us our first look into the lives of famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The duo have been a part of many highly publicized cases including the illustrious Amityville haunting. Coming off the heels of an incredible horror film, that transcended its genre and appealed to mass audiences, The Conjuring 2 seemingly had the weight of the world on it’s shoulders with gargantuan expectations heaped upon it. How could Wan and screenwriters the Hayes brothers, possibly top the original? Well it turns out they couldn’t, and that’s ok. What they were able to do is provide a consistently terrifying horror story that turns into a pseudo gothic romance, echoing the importance of familial loyalty. Carrying many similar themes from the first go round, this installation gives us more insight into the connection between Ed and Lorraine, and as a result, is dripping with sweet sentiment.
The film plays almost like a love letter between the Warren’s with a side act of sheer terror plaguing a poor family in Enfield England. Wan is able to maneuver two parallel stories with different themes into one cohesive narrative, all while scaring the hell out of us. The original provided more than just a solid horror movie, and instead swept us into a world unease and utter dread. The Conjuring 2 does much of the same, but with some of the existential elements cast away and pushing for a more straightforward genre experience. Following many of the same beats as the original, Wan dials up the rights to full blast. Effectively directing the hell out of this film, what Wan is able to do with standard conventional scares to make them seem unexpected and original is pure genius. In one scene early in the action, we see a little boy meandering thru a dark house while everyone is asleep, he stumbles across a loud toy truck and pushes it into his little teepee. When he proceeds to bed, it’s no secret that we are going to see the toy truck make it’s way back out of the tent and down the hall efficiently frightening the boy. So you tense up in anticipation, then Wan bates you continually by panning the camera back and forth and back and forth and back again, and this tensing turns to dread as you brace yourself for the inevitable but it’s this lull that rocks into a cold sweat that only Wan seems capable of. This very scene sums up the innovation the keen director has been utilizing in every one of his films. He makes the obvious, terrifying and sucks the audience in like no other.
The story is effectively frightening, again infringing on the audience’s sympathies for a family with no hope. This time around that family is the Hodgsons. Mrs. hodgson is a single mother of four young children plagued with the stress of raising her family alone. Appealing to the audience’s empathetic nature, it’s nearly impossible not to fall into the trap deftly laid out. The family is routinely haunted by a malevolent spirit that wants them out of its home. Leading up to the intersection of the two adjacent stories, the film is rather paint by numbers. Electing for some of the more traditional jump scares in lieu of the very slow build up from the first offering, this is certainly a more genre specific outing. That said, Wan still manages to produce viable cringe worthy moments of thick tension even while losing some of the ominous atmosphere.
The performances are what will etch this film as another classic in Wan’s gallery of proverbial hits. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as the Warren’s and their seething chemistry provides a massive warm front that casts itself over this films frosty exterior like a warm hug. These two are the glue that holds this film together when the story nearly derails in the final act. The Conjuring 2 gives us an intense look into the intrepid and passionate love story between the two main characters. This story falls completely apart if not for Wan’s deft touch to carefully balance two separate plots that run simultaneously, and Wilson and Farmiga’s unbelievably believable chemistry. Outside of those two, Madison Wolf, who plays Janet Hodgson, the little girl who seems to be the conduit for the spirit, is revelatory. She provides an astounding performance, that without her subtleties could have easily come unhinged and been overacted. Instead Wolf, and all of children cast in this movie provide honest and terrifying performances that ground the film and ease the two main plotlines into one shared narrative.
James Wan is this film’s biggest star. What he was able to do here is nothing short of incredible. While it does not surpass its predecessor as a film, it provides an uniquely indelible offering to this franchise and the horror genre. Wan flashed his style with beautiful tracking shots, and singular wide frame blurry lense frames that enhance the action and makes his mark on this story. The cast and production team come together to give us a solid story with thrills and frights galore. While it seemingly lacks the quintessential scene or moment that you’ll carry with you long after the you’ve exited the theater, this film manages to hold together well, over the course of it’s 2 hour run time, and never feels flat or dull at any point. This feels like Wan’s sentimental swan song the franchise he has now made famous. There is this finality to the film, not in the way that there won’t be another sequel, but more in the way that this director is giving us the wave goodbye as he moves onward and upward in his extremely promising career. The Conjuring 2 is by no means Wan’s best overall film, but it is a testament to his budding talents that have grown over the course of his young career thus far, and it’s clear as day that his time away from horror has made him an exponentially better filmmaker with a style all his own.
3.8/5 Pretty Cool Bro