Cinematic Releases: The Conjuring 2 - Reviewed

One of the best horror films of the last decade got a sequel.
Does it live up to the original?

Two years after The Conjuring announced his presence to the world as a truly gifted filmmaker, James Wan blew the doors off the box office with the $1 billion-grossing Furious 7, and was offered what he called a "life altering" amount of money to direct the sequel. Incredibly, he passed on that fat check, deciding to indulge his passion for making things go bump in the night, and we can be grateful for that. Drawing once again from the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren that inspired the events in the first Conjuring, Wan's sequel may not be an equal to his first masterpiece, but if that was a home run, this is a solid triple.

It also solidifies my belief that Wan does his best work when his friend Leigh Whannell isn't there mucking up the works. Leigh, we all know you wrote Saw, but why don't you go direct that piece of garbage Insidious 3, and leave the real filmmaking to your buddy James. He clearly knows what he is doing. You can let go of his coattails now.

"Hi. I'm here to make you shit your pants."

Beginning with an instantly classic retelling of an iconic case that will make every horror buff smile with knowing delight, The Conjuring 2 strikes the right note from the opening shot. Like the Annabelle prologue from the first film, this introduction serves as an atmospheric vignette to draw us into the story and set the mood. Wan's direction for this sequence -- and the rest of the film -- is spot on. Instead of reiterating the events from a series we all know, Wan's take is stylish, original, and eerily unsettling. By the time the title appears on the screen, it felt safe to breathe a sigh of relief. They didn't screw it up.

The bulk of the film takes place across the Atlantic in Enfield, England, where a troublesome entity is harassing a family, centering its crosshairs on the youngest girl. Their house on Green Street looks like something you'd see on one of those "housing emergency" television shows, with paint peeling off the walls, furniture dug out from a dumpster, and a crackling rustic aesthetic. You couldn't pay me to live there. Wan uses long tracking shots and staggeringly beautiful wide angle lens work to establish the layout of the house in our minds. By the time the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) arrive on the scene to investigate, Wan's visuals (aided in no small part by cinematographer Don Burgess) have breathed life into the setting, and the production design itself becomes a character.

"If mom sees my room, she'll kill me."

Like the first film, Wan paints his character palette in broad strokes, filling out the story with an ensemble of actors who feel like real people, and allowing for dimensional weight in roles that have been thankless in many other genre cutouts. Not all of the characters in The Conjuring 2 get as much screen time as they should, but the performances across the board are fantastic. Madison Wolfe as the object of demonic affection is particularly effective. She never seems like an adult talking from a child's body, as so many young actors have a tendency to do. If you don't know what I mean by that, go watch Rory Culkin's performance in Signs and then watch this. Wolfe's interactions and palpable terror feel authentic every moment that she's on the screen. She lets the spooky atmosphere and Joseph Bishara's unnerving score reach for effect, which they do with overwhelming success.

The images from the trailer suggested merely an Exorcist retread with yet another demonic possession of a creepy little girl. It made a lot of us apprehensive. Thankfully, Wan and his team of writers were smart enough to sidestep all of the land mines inherent with that tired cliche. What we do get is a buffet of nightmare food manifested straight from the darkest recesses of a gifted filmmaker's demented psyche, long sequences of mounting terror punctuated by razor sharp jump scares, and one of the best uses of a static long take I have seen in years. The shot, which holds on Patrick Wilson for roughly three minutes, is a perfect example of how the simplest tricks can still be the best ones. While more reliant on loud noises than its predecessor, The Conjuring 2 more than makes up for its flaws, and I'm sure that it will stand out as one of the best horror films of the year.


- Blake O. Kleiner

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