(USA, 134 min.)
Dir. James Wan, Writ. Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Johnson
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Maria Doyle Kennedy
James Wan conjures some solid scares in his thoroughly satisfying follow-up to one of the best horror films in recent years. The original The Conjuring (2013) sets a high bar for a sequel with its chilling tale of true horror that merits comparisons to The Exorcist. The Conjuring 2 matches the calibre of the original film and delivers some truly scary jolts, thrilling set pieces, and bone-chilling imagery that are marred only by the film’s exhausting running time. When the majority of movies hitting theatres are sequels, reboots, or remakes, The Conjuring 2 is the rare case of franchise filmmaking that doesn’t play like derivative garbage.
I gasped audibly and embarrassingly loud, like a child, at least five times during The Conjuring 2. While I watched most of the original film with the lights on and my eyes averted to the floor, this worthy follow-up is great to see with a horde or screamers. Wan shows that every cliché in the realm of haunted house spooks still has the ability to shake the audience and make viewers shriek in their seats. Chairs rock, floors creak, and ghosts arise in loud pop-out surprises, yet they’re all terrifying, suspenseful, and fresh.
The film brings married mystics Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) back to spook central when a curse from their Amityville days crosses the pond and haunts a family in London. Lorraine, the stronger of the two paranormal investigators, sees something ghastly and awful in the film’s opening preamble that puts her in the cellar where the real Amityville horror took place. She witnesses some dead kids (as one always does), a demonic nun, and Ed, dead. The stakes are real this time as her premonition latches onto her and the nun appears in their home while another force terrorises the Hodgson family in England.
The youngest Hodgson, Janet (Madison Wolfe, who isn't the strong presence that Lili Taylor is in the first film), is the film’s resident creepy kid as a sinister force in their house invades her body. Whereas the first Conjuring brings in a demonic presence through a playful top, this Conjuring puts the carrier and the boogeyman together, as Peggy’s brother Billy (Benjamin Haigh) plays with an eerie zoetrope that evokes the rhyme of a crooked man, who invades their home and knocks on doors like Mr. Babadook. If there’s any downside to The Conjuring 2, it’s that the two films are divided into the pre-Babadook and post-Babadook eras of horror. They’re more or less the same film, with the Aussie chiller undeniably superior, but the true crime source of Ed and Lorraine Warren adds some street cred to The Conjuring 2, especially if one stays for the credits.
Farmiga once again gets the juicy role of Lorraine and she possesses the character with unnerving composure and iciness. Wilson’s Ed doesn’t have nearly as much depth or complexity as Lorraine does, since he mostly plays the straightforward stalwart hero, so The Conjuring 2 follows the original’s dynamic of putting the final act primarily in Farmiga’s hands. The task works to the film’s benefit, since the actress can scare a viewer to the bone by rattling her paranormal investigator so intensely. The Conjuring 2 also asks the audience to have a little faith in the actress as Lorraine carries a heavy spiritual side and the film climaxes with a confrontation of beliefs. The Conjuring, like The Exorcist, draws significantly from the religious elements of demonic possession. It works, though, because it challenges the audience to confront faith, something many viewers see as a comfort, as something that can also wield evil powers.
The plot of this Conjuring is essentially the same as the first one with a family in peril within a haunted house, but with the Warrens getting their own battle. Despite the familiarities in plot and story, this Conjuring is endlessly suspenseful. Wan knows that true horror breathes not in a story, but within cinematic space. The director devilishly manipulates time and space within The Conjuring 2 and uses long takes, silence, and patience as catalysts for intense jolts. The film lingers as eerie forces lurk outside the frame and the film plays into the masterful element of horror that invites audiences to imagine the scares with their own minds. (The film’s at its weakest when it actually shows the spirits, although some pop-out scares admittedly bring a fright.) Wan, working with DP Daniel Burgess, throws in some off-kilter crane shots that twist the action for the audience to see it as if from the vantage point of a child whose head turns 360° with the help of a demon within. The more space the film takes in, and the longer it holds these breathtaking shots, the more it wracks up tension to release it with a scream.
The Conjuring 2 is now in theatres.