Movie Review: “The Conjuring 2”

Starring
Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Simon McBurney
Director
James Wan

Horror sequels like “The Conjuring 2” are a dime a dozen, but director James Wan’s sequel manages to capture the spirit of the first film – hitting some familiar beats along the way – and takes the series and its two protagonists in a chilling new direction. What stands out about this franchise is that it’s not so much the scares that draw you in, although Wan does accomplish that, but rather its lead characters the Warrens.

The sequel begins with a new case – the famous Amityville incident – which screenwriters Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson and Wan only touch on briefly to give the audience a sense of where the characters are at in their careers and, rather seamlessly, efficiently establish a new internal and external threat in the film. Most of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren’s (Vera Farmiga) journey takes place in Enfield, England, where the Hodgson family is under attack from evil spirits. One of Peggy’s (Frances O’Connor) children, Janet (Madison Wolfe), is possessed by the spirit of Old Bill (Bob Adrian), a man that wants his home back. Although most believe the case is a hoax, Ed and Lorraine are willing to take a chance on the desperate family.

This sequel wisely puts a face to the villains. They’re more tangible, have identities and pose a greater threat. They’re all genuinely frightening, too, whether they’re seen or not. Wan waits for the right time to reveal his team of evil spirits, but the most effective depiction of one of the villains comes in a fantastic, seamless long take. As Ed tries to reason with Old Bill, who’s obscured in the background of a shot as Ed has his back to him, Wan and cinematographer Don Burgess capture the tense interaction all in one long take that slowly zooms, making the audience tighten up as the frame does. It’s a remarkable take – a slow burn of a shot that isn’t showy.

A part of the reason why that sequence is so chilling is because of the stakes. The Warrens are very honorable, kind-hearted heroes who, as Ed says, never back down from a fight. Their love for each other still rings loud and clear, and because of that, it makes the scares more human and terrifying as we watch two genuinely lovable characters in serious danger. The same goes for the Hodgson family, all of whom are well cast. Madison Wolfe, in particular, has a lot of responsibility as the possessed girl, and she’s both frightening and sad.

“The Conjuring 2” is a rare horror movie that’s over two hours long. There’s one tangent in the third act that comes across as a deviation – and partly because it’s a very exposition-heavy sequence – but the rest of the film benefits from a pace that isn’t always in a rush to get to the next scare. There are some character moments that, maybe in the hands of another director or editor, would’ve been cut, but it’s these specific scenes that let the characters breathe, which in turn heightens the drama. When Janet reveals the toll this haunting has taken on her life (nobody wants to be friends with a possessed girl, shockingly), it’s a quiet, completely character-driven moment that helps make the story more believable and Janet more empathetic.

For a horror movie, “The Conjuring 2” is surprisingly sweet. At times, the Warrens’ can-do spirit and optimism is genuinely touching. Even if Wan removed all the horror elements, he’d still be left with a compelling central relationship with two characters that are easy to root and fear for. Ed and Lorraine Warren have plenty of heart, which helps make “The Conjuring 2” a refreshingly good-natured, if frequently unnerving, sequel.

  

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