“The Conjuring 2” Movie Review


     Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, it can’t be denied that the exploits of real life demonologists, Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) , make for some intriguing and creative entertainment in director James Wan’s “The Conjuring 2”, while livening up a horror genre that has badly needed a facelift for years.  For me, I tend to find myself significantly more affected by stories that don’t require suspension of disbelief and could actually happen.  This is why my Blu ray copies of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remain in their shrink wrap on my shelf and likely will never be seen by these eyes again.  Many people, especially those whose early adult years fell in the 1970s will tell you “The Exorcist” is the scariest film of all time, but that also requires some level of religious belief, as the acceptance of a person being demonically possessed takes a tremendous leap of faith.  

     To a certain extent, both 2013’s “The Conjuring” and its new sequel have revived these stories of possession, perhaps even bringing the sub genre to entirely new level with those consistent hints put into the minds of viewers that these incidents actually happened.  As a franchise, I suppose “The Conjuring” can simply go case by case if the studio so desires, since the Warrens have many more notable cases to choose from.  Wan, who has lived primarily in the horror realm for his entire career with titles such as “Saw” and “Insidious”, also directed the first film and is coming off the billion and a half dollar behemoth known as “Furious 7”.  His newfound blockbuster experience is evident in “The Conjuring 2” as the scope of the film is clearly bigger than the first, as is the budget he is now working with.

     In similar fashion to the original which introduced a portion of the “Annabelle” story at the beginning, “The Conjuring 2” begins with a prologue detailing the events of the Warren’s most famous case that became the basis for the 1979 movie version of “The Amityville Horror”.  But since that film has already been rebooted (2005), Wan goes with what is typically mentioned as the duo’s most famous international case, known as the Enfield Poltergeist which took place in the late 1970s in north London, England and dealt with an 11 year old girl who becomes possessed by a demonic spirit.  Of course, if you do your research and look into what actually occurred, you’ll find returning screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes enhanced the story with quite a bit more than the usual “things that go bump in the night” premise we’ve seen in so many recent films like this.  How far those liberties actually go will depend on how much of this stuff you believe in.

     Wan knows the most important aspect of a horror film, maybe even more crucial than the story itself, is ensuring the proper tone is established early.  The look and feel of the film must project a visual and audible sense of dread and uncomfortableness.  As a veteran of the genre, Wan employs his craft with a notable expertise, painting every landscape and setting, interior and exterior, with a drab and utterly depressing color palette.  It’s as if every day outside is overcast and gray with each room on the inside having a dingy, moldy appearance.  Add to that Joseph Bishara’s brooding musical score and Joe Dzuban’s creepy sound design and you have the exact recipe for a startling thrill ride within a very haunted house.  The only real issue is we’ve seen all of this before in almost the exact same fashion in the original film, but that doesn’t mean Wan doesn’t still have a few tricks up his sleeve.

     If you happen to re-watch the Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert review of “Aliens” from 1986, one of the comments you’ll hear them make is their issue with the fact director James Cameron puts a young child directly into harms way.  And you can see why they would say that.  Audiences will never balk at seeing an adult fall victim to a grisly murder, but to have a child suffer the same fate?  For most of us, that’s taking things to the extreme.  Wan knows this, and while he’s armed here with the framework of a true story, that young 11 year old, Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) is the center of the demonic spirit’s attention and her unlucky siblings, specifically her older sister, Margaret (Lauren Esposito), and her younger brother, Billy (Benjamin Haigh) find themselves in constant and terrifying peril for the entire 132 minute running time. And mom, Peggy (Frances O’Connor), is no better off after being recently divorced and left with her children in government provided housing.  It’s an interesting twist with no man in the house to take the stereotypical lead and go head first into whatever evil is lurking within the walls.

     In fact, it’s not really the requisite jump scares that propels the film at all.  It’s the intensity that Wan is able to manufacture and maintain from scene to scene in which the suspense, dialogue, and camera work all contribute to a high degree.  And the best film editors know that the audience comes prepared, but they have no idea when exactly you’re going to hit them.  Film Editor Kirk Morri hits the audience so often that one may feel like they just exited the Octagon rather than a movie theater and that’s a good thing.  Wan’s decision to set the tone and then throttle exhilaration into every scene is a huge upgrade over the cheap horror movie scares most of these films seem to rely on.  Farmiga and Wilson are good as usual playing the Warrens at a time in their lives where they may have felt it was time to hang up their paranormal badges and embrace a more quiet life, but as is the case with most of us, we always seem to gravitate toward what we know and what we do best.  GRADE: B