Directed by: James Wan
Premise: A sequel to the 2013 film. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) travel to the United Kingdom to help a family afflicted by evil spirits.
What Works: Movies about hauntings are all the rage in the horror genre at the moment and The Conjuring 2 is one of the best films to come out of this cycle. Recent haunting and possession titles suffer from murky cinematography, shrillness, and the obnoxious technique of clobbering the audience with loud sound effects. The Conjuring 2 avoids many of these vices and it finds filmmaker James Wan at the top of his game. Wan has emerged as one of the most successful filmmakers in the contemporary horror genre and he demonstrates considerable skill in The Conjuring 2. Wan and his filmmaking crew understand how to use the frame to block the action and create tension, the lighting is always just right, and sound is also used effectively. Most critically, The Conjuring 2 creates an atmosphere of dread and even sequences that take place in the daytime are creepy; a simple shot of an empty chair is fright-inducing because of the expertise with which this film has been made. The Conjuring 2 is also a smart film. The story is part spook house and part mystery as the Warrens attempt to uncover the truth of the haunting. Although they accept the supernatural as a matter of fact, the film includes a skeptic character who questions the veracity of the family’s story. That gives the picture some credibility—in haunted house movies the experts almost always believe the victims without question—but it also creates sympathy for the family since it is obvious that they are telling the truth. The haunting and investigation piece together in the climax without feeling contrived or absurd. The Conjuring 2 also benefits from some good performances. This is primarily the Warren’s story and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are quite good as the investigating couple. They feel like a couple because the filmmakers give them moments to act like it and that adds an emotional core to the picture. The Conjuring 2 also benefits from Frances O’Connor as the mother. She’s a single parent on her last nerve and her exhaustion adds some humanity to the movie.
What Doesn’t: Viewers who have seen James Wan’s other work are likely to find The Conjuring 2 very familiar. Wan has made several paranormal horror pictures and they tend to be redundant. Dead Silence, Insidious and its sequels, and The Conjuring films all follow the same plot structure, feature ghosts and ghouls with similar designs, cast a few of the same actors, and include similar set pieces. All filmmakers have a distinct style and tend to revisit the same ideas and motifs in their movies. But this goes beyond style. It is as though James Wan is making the same movie over and over again. Fortunately, each version is usually better than the last and The Conjuring 2 is one of the best films that Wan has made. However, at two hours and fourteen minutes, The Conjuring 2 runs a little long for what is a fairly routine haunted house picture. With that length, the characters ought to be better fleshed out than they are; the children are indistinct, even Janet, played by Madison Wolfe, who is the target of the demonic presence. There are things going on in the background of this story, such as divorce, poverty, and teenage angst that could be utilized to give the family more depth and enhance the dramatic stakes but the film’s focus remains solely on the supernatural activity. And that is why The Conjuring 2, and most of James Wan’s other supernatural films, don’t ever quite get to the level of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street; the horror is an end in itself rather than a manifestation of some social or human issue.
Bottom Line: The Conjuring 2 is a solid spook house of a movie. Despite how familiar it is from other James Wan productions, it is extremely well made and satisfies as a fun and frightening cinematic experience.
Episode: #599 (June 19, 2016)