REVIEW — “The Conjuring 2”
Due to its familiar plot line and the fact that there are less all-time great scares, The Conjuring 2 is a step-down from The Conjuring. Yet, thanks to excellent direction, writing, and acting it is entertaining and captivating in its own right.
Screenwriters Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes (The Reaping, House of Wax), James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring), and David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans, Red Riding Hood) penned the screenplay. While most horror sequels are unable to come up with a worthy foe to face the survivors of the first film, that is not the case: the “Demon Nun” is terrifying in her appearance and moves like a shadow, which makes her terrifying in ways the witch in The Conjuring was not.
Familiar Plot Line:
In this installment, Lorraine Warren sees a vision of Ed Warren dying at the hands of the “Demon Nun,” which prompts her to be more hesitant to help others and protective of her husband. In The Conjuring, Ed Warren was hesitant to help others and more protective of his wife because she suffered through a traumatic experience during an exorcism. Despite knowing the risks, Lorraine Warren chose to continue helping the Perron family in the original. Similarly, Ed Warren is more eager to help the Hodgson family than Lorraine is even when his life is in grave danger.
Less All-Time Great Scares:
Even though the scares in The Conjuring 2 are effective and there is a pervasive sense of suspense and dread, there are no scares that live-up to the opening sequence featuring Annabelle or the “Clap-Clap” scene in The Conjuring. In other words, the scary moments in this horror sequel are excellent even though they have less staying power.
James Wan’s Masterful Direction:
Ultimately, what makes The Conjuring 2 a worthy sequel is James Wan’s masterful direction of both the dramatic and horror sequences. Unlike most horror directors, Wan cares to establish the relationships of the main characters so that there is a heart. Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel, The Departed) and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) have perfect chemistry as a married couple that feels called to help those who are oppressed by demons, as well as each other. Although some of their dialogue is cheesy, their chemistry is strong enough to move the story forward without sacrificing any momentum. In fact, the vision Lorraine sees is more terrifying because the audience cares about the Warrens.
Wan’s handling of Janet Hodgson’s character is superb. When she is possessed, she is framed in a manner that makes her intimidating to the audience. When she is not, Wan and Madison Wolfe (Joy, Trumbo) work in tandem to make her plight worth caring about. The parallels that the screenwriters draw between the Warrens and Janet help make her more likeable and pitiable: all three characters can see things that others cannot and must face their greatest fears face-to-face. Witnessing Janet become isolated and lose hope as the demonic activity tears her life apart is horrifying in its own right. The audience wants her character to break free of this evil entity so that her suffering will end.
As for the horror sequences, Wan’s atmospheric direction provides a sense of unease and dread that makes the audience unable to take their eyes off of the screen, even when the outcome of a scene seems certain. While many horror films revel in gore and rely solely on jump scares, The Conjuring 2 manages to utilize both properly: there is not an instance of gratuitous gore nor is there a cheap jump scare. To be clear, there are several jump scares but James Wan admirably stages each of them. By far the most terrifying sequence is the second scene in which Lorraine faces the “Demon Nun.” The manner in which this foe moves, like a shadow, makes every second of this scene captivating and terrifying. Wan is never scared to linger over each shot of a horror scene, so that each scare is properly built up to and pays off in a satisfying manner.
Because James Wan has been making horror films since Saw, his determination to subvert horror tropes has only grown stronger. This is apparent when Frances O’Connor’s Peggy Hodgson sees the first evidence of paranormal activity in her house and immediately gets her children out of the house. One of the oldest horror movie clichés is that the family stays in the haunted house long beyond the point of plausibility. To his credit, Wan always provides an explanation for why the family does or does not stay in their houses as the paranormal activity occurs.
When Bill, the old man who died in the house, speaks through Janet loudly enough to wake Margaret, her reaction is unexpectedly intelligent: she hears something lurking in the darkness and fears for her life as she turns the lamp on and off for her room, only to leave the light on when she expects to see something. This drew laughs and cheers from the advanced screening audience I saw this film with. While this may seem like a small detail, the fact that Margaret chooses to sleep with the lamp on fits her character and subverts the horror movie trope in which the characters continue to turn the lights off as something appears to get closer and closer to them.
The Conjuring 2 is not a flawless masterpiece nor is it as unforgettable as its predecessor. However, it is a well-directed, acted, and written horror sequel worth seeing in theaters.
Rating: R for terror and horror violence.
Runtime: 2 hours and 13 minutes.