The Conjuring 2 (2016)

conjuringpostersmall“Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits.”

I will admit my immediate response to the news that 2013’s The Conjuring was getting a sequel was outright skepticism that it could be even as remotely interesting or frightening as the first. Compound that with the abysmal Annabelle from 2014 (which is also somehow getting a sequel), and my expectations for this entry were below average. The doubt stayed in my mind, even as the first trailers were released, and seemed promising. I just couldn’t let myself fall for it. That said, I made the trip to the theatre today, had a watch, and was genuinely pleasantly surprised by what I saw. While it doesn’t quite recapture the original, or feel quite as new and exciting as that one was, it manages to maintain the tension and scares of the first, without feeling too much like a carbon copy of it.

This film continues to show what I already knew, James Wan is easily the strongest main-stream horror director working today, becoming one of this generations greats. If the previous generation is made up of Carpenter and Craven, Wan has earned his place in this new generation. Even at his schlockiest (Furious 7), Wan manages to entertain with his films, and shows a love for the work he is doing in every frame. He has a very clear vision for the Conjuring series, and hasn’t deviated. Much the same as the first two Insidious films had a clear vision for the world they were creating, even the third managed to hold onto that. While I’m not sure that another installment is necessary or even warranted, he’s done a service to the quality of the first with the work done here. He continues to provide hope for the genre with each of the films he releases.

Returning to this project with Wan, are writers Cary and Chat Hayes, who wrote the first film with him, and David Leslie Johnson who wrote Oprhan. It’s clear that they all work quite well together, and the story is a stronger ghost story than most released recently. While I don’t completely buy that the story is quite as true as the film would have you believe, nor that the Warrens are necessarily being completely honest, the blurring of the lines between reality and fiction are very interesting, and managed to suck me in despite my own beliefs. Certainly someone who believes the Warren’s story will be all the more effected by what they see here, but it works as a horror film without the “based on a true story” tags added to it.

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One of the biggest reasons that it works as well as it does is Wan’s visual style, and the way that his films are shot. There is so much impressive and interesting camera work done in the film, and that creates a visually intense experience all on it’s own. There is a great video from the set of the film that shows some of the work that is done, and I can’t recommend watching it enough. The amount of work put into this shows that Wan and his crew take horror seriously, it’s not something being slapped together to make a quick buck and cash on in the fact that horror fans are starving for big budget films (looking at YOU Ouija, and its sequel). Wan has a real indie sensibility, but the budget to back it up, which makes the movie all the more enjoyable.

There is also his creature design, Wan has used some really interesting a spooky design for the ghosts and demons in the movie. Two that stood out to me were the nun that appears is most of the trailers, but also in the Crooked Man, who at one point emerges from a dog in one of the most bizarre and out-of-place scenes in the film. What is clear about both is that there are elements of real people playing the parts, Wan avoids relying on CGI for most of the movie, and that creates a much more effective horror movie. It’s the same reason that The Exorcist has aged so well, and The Thing has a such a fan-base. Practical effects make all the difference, having something that is obviously present in the frame makes it scarier, it’s not interesting to look at something and go “oh well, that doesn’t have any physical presence at all”.

The cast in The Conjuring 2 also help make the movie as effective as it is. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren, and both are very charismatic and likable, and they have excellent on screen chemistry. Madison Wolfe (Keanu) has one of the most physically demanding roles and does an excellent job as Janet, and Frances O’Connor (The Missing) is wonderful as well.

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Of course, the film is not without its problems. For me those problems came more from elements of the story than anything else. Having a bit of knowledge about the Warrens and their lives does take a little bit of the tension out of their perilous scenes, but story issues don’t really detract from this one as far as I’m concerned. It’s certainly not a perfect movie, but (especially as sequels go) this is absolutely a worth-while experience. Might even be fun one to take a date to, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The Conjuring 2 is a well-told ghost story, with plenty to make you hide your eyes behind your hands and wait for the sun to come out, but it also has moments of levity that seem to be absent from so much of horror these days. There are breaks that help build the characters and to pull back the more oppressive elements present. A strong recommend for fans of the original, and it’s one that could be seen even if you haven’t seen the first. That said, you should definitely see the first, like right now.

MY RATING: ****

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