The first 20 minutes or so had me feeling unimpressed, restless, and bored. I was ready to write a lukewarm review. At some point, however, something clicked.
When The Conjuring came out in 2013, most other people I talked to had nothing but good things to say, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, seeing as I found the movie just passable if not a bit unoriginal. Nevertheless, audiences flocked to the thing, making it one of the most successful horror films in last 10 years. The only explanation that I could come up with was that so many other horror movies coming out at the same time were utter trash, and audiences were delighted to see something competently made. Where I tend to avoid horror movies unless they’ve been given significant praise, most other general audience members will see The Conjuring 2 because of their devotion to the first one. But, hey, that’s alright. No complaints here.
Admittedly, the first 20 minutes or so had me feeling unimpressed, restless, and bored. I was ready to write a lukewarm review. At some point, however, something clicked. The scares became more intense, the characters started to develop in ways they hadn’t before, and the supernatural imagery became truly frightening and effective. At this point, I’m ready to say that James Wan has proven himself to be a competent, savvy director of horror, and The Conjuring 2 showcases all of his talents, making it a rare case of the sequel being better than the original.
Real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), not long after the events of the first film and the briefly seen Amityville case, are on a sabbatical, though Lorraine is still tormented by horrifying prophetic visions. Meanwhile, a poor family in London is experiencing supernatural activity from a hostile spirit, and the Warrens, unable to neglect a family in need, fly themselves over to investigate. It’s around this point that things really start to pick up, and my once cynical and unimpressed outlook melted away into actual interest and concern for the case and the characters involved, and some of the most unsettling supernatural antagonists make their presence known.
Of course, the visuals and makeup are what shine through in this genre. The ghosts and demons are legitimately terrifying, like in the way that you remember what they look like just as you step outside to take out the trash. Also, somewhat surprisingly, sound is made excellent use of, from demon wails to playfully macabre song choices. Children’s choirs, you’re about to be associated with razor-toothed specters and supernatural peril. Editing, too, is one of the films major strong suits. Wan knows where to put a long take, and a one-shot interview with a spirit turns out to be one of the most effective and visually inventive scenes in the film.
And even more refreshing, the characters actually do things that make sense. They are logical, open-minded, and self-sufficient, making their helplessness at the hands of this evil all the more disconcerting. Plus, the cast all pull together good performances, specifically the young Madison Wolfe as Janet Hodgson, the daughter who comes into contact with a tortured soul and a malevolent entity.
It’s not a perfect film. I wouldn’t say, in terms of maturity and originality, it reaches the heights of other great recent horror films. Some overly-sentimental moments and unsubtle script-choices might pull you out of things for a bit, but otherwise, it’s simply entertaining, well-crafted cinema, even if the subject matter is something we’ve seen before. | Nic Champion