Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: James Wan
Writer: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, James Wan, David Johnson
Producer: Peter Safran, Rob Cowan, James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Simon Delaney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Sterling Jerins
Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate a poltergeist terrorizing a single mother and her four children in Enfield, England.
“The Conjuring 2” makes two truths plainly evident. First, filmmaker James Wan is as crucial of a creator in the evolution of horror entertainment as John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Stephen King, or any other genre giant a person can name. Second, if “The Conjuring 2” doesn’t put color in your shorts, it might be impossible for any horror movie to get inside your fear center.
“The Conjuring 2” opens in Amityville. While cheapo indies abuse the town’s name and studios stammer over how to handle the franchise proper, Wan packs more frightful atmosphere into this single scene than the last six Amityville features combined.
It’s been two months since the Lutzes fled the notoriously haunted home. Now paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren are on site for a séance to see if supposedly supernatural claims are horror or hoax.
Shocked into a psychic trance, Lorraine relives the DeFeo Family murders from the killer’s eyes. Brutally bloody and deeply disturbing, Lorraine’s sensory nightmare concludes in a chilling confrontation with an evil entity dressed as a demonic nun. The experience troubles Lorraine so deeply that when she returns to reality, she forces Ed to vow that they will refuse any new cases over fear for their sanity as well as their lives.
That’s a vow soon broken. Over in England, 11-year-old Janet Hodgson’s nightly bouts of sleepwalking take a sinister turn when she begins speaking in the throaty voice of Bill, a 72-year-old man who claims to have died in the home. Bill wants the house back. And he wants to hear the Hodgsons scream. With Janet becoming possessed, toys turning into living terrors, and furniture flying throughout the home, Ed and Lorraine may be the family’s only hope for banishing the devilish poltergeist and saving young Janet’s life.
Straight from the gate, the film bolts at a full sprint, putting the audience right into the thick of things and on the same page with everyone involved. Once paranormal activity begins, the film’s foot stays committed to pressing down on the gas.
No time is expended on the usual “I don’t believe you” exposition that slows down the starts of many supernatural haunters. Mama Hodgson is barely into her raised-voice speech about how her two panicked daughters need to knock off the nonsense when a dresser bangs across the room, prompting everyone to flee immediately. When cops show up for a look-see, instead of “nothing to see here” skepticism and a quick dismissal, the constables are in the Hodgson home for a mere minute when a kitchen chair floats across the floor.
There are no useless scenes. “The Conjuring 2” uses every available moment to build either characters and story, or suspense and scares.
Those scares are crafted so carefully and executed so masterfully, they stand among the most effective ever committed to screen. A certain sequence involving a shadow possessing an eerie painting is as memorable of a horror movie moment as Regan’s head doing a 360-degree spin or the silhouette stalking Janet Leigh in her motel shower. It is that good.
Every time the movie goes conspicuously quiet, you immediately tense up with anxious anticipation. Every shadowed corner in the background is a threat. Every open window is an opportunity for danger. Every sight, every sound, every part of the frame invites potential terror. There is always something to see, a reason to stay alert, a reason to be afraid of what comes next, and you can practically picture James Wan smiling with delight at knowing he has your imagination right where he wants it.
It isn’t just jump scares. Even when the camera slowly zooms while floor creaks grow louder, open eyes can clearly see what comes next and it is still terrifying. The camera is so confident in its ability that it can reveal the blueprint of what it is planning and the tactic works every time.
Wan’s horror movies consistently stoke a distinct sense of helpless unease with a unique style unlike any other filmmaker. “The Conjuring 2” is his pinnacle achievement in weaving a fully immersive drape of dread that smothers every environment, leaving the viewer with no option other than to commit trust completely to his vision.
Even though every minute provides purpose, adrenaline is front-loaded. Supernatural suspense films usually ramp up, but “The Conjuring 2” ramps down with a pause in the pace prior to the climax. The duration runs over two hours, which is on the long side for a fright film where an audience can run out of energy before the movie does. That length is felt not in a check your watch with impatience kind of way, but as a strength-sapping experience asking the audience to invest and engage so heavily.
Trimming act three would accentuate action, though essential character development lulls are as charming as the poltergeist encounters are nerve-wracking. Schmaltz is applied with thick strokes at the ending, but Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga make the Warrens’ love story so affectionately touching through their chemistry that artificial emotion can be forgiven.
The demonic nun reminds a little too much of Marilyn Manson and inclusions like Hodgson brother Johnny don’t pull their share of the weight. Also, the theme of a frazzled mother struggling with too many kids in her humble home doesn’t stray far from the plot of the first film. Maybe it shouldn’t. At this point, criticism is meandering into quibbles rather than legitimate issues having meaningful impact on the movie.
“The Conjuring 2” is proof positive that a studio horror film can be commercial for mass appeal while still satisfying even the most diehard genre movie fan. Characters worth caring about, a story with strong suspense, and supernatural scares imprinted in the mind’s eye. I can’t think of anything else that someone could possibly want from a horror film that “The Conjuring 2” doesn’t have.
Review Score: 90