In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
t never fails. Along comes a chilling, original horror movie that reinvents the wheel, so to speak, and almost immediately thereafter what was once a solid standalone film is now a franchise. Nine times out of ten each new entry is weaker than the last and eventually the entire series becomes a parody of itself, sometimes literally. The Conjuring 2 is that one time out of ten where a horror sequel not only earns its keep, but establishes the idea that a franchise may actually be workable from a creative standpoint. It’s also pretty durn scary. Taking place a few years after the events of the original film, The Conjuring 2 tells another “true” tale from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the do-gooder duo of ghost hunters that are attached to just about every major haunting in American history (the famous Amityville haunting takes place somewhere between these two films). When a demon attaches itself to the North London home of a single mother and her children, the Warrens are called in to take a look. Despite their initial hesitance due to Lorraine’s mental fragility, they cannot help themselves but to aid the family in need. Things begin to go bump in the night, and before you know it we’ve got a scary movie on our hands.
The film’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. By focusing more on the Warrens, who were playing second fiddle to the family at the center of the first film, the sequel is given strong connective tissue as opposed to being just a Conjuring-branded haunted house film. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson (who give the Warrens a legitimately adorable chemistry), one can’t help but feel a bit at arm’s length from the proceedings. The psychic and her husband are not the best audience surrogates, and unless there’s someone who I can identify with facing these terrors, my fear is limited to the runtime of the movie. To this day whenever my foot hangs off of the bottom of my bed, I think about The Conjuring and scare myself silly. I’m 31. But there’s nothing in the sequel that threatens my sanity in a similar way.
But in the moment, The Conjuring 2 really works. This is due in part to the central performances, as well as the solid (if not a bit overstuffed) script. The real MVP, however, is the direction of James Wan. The man has an otherworldly gift for setting up and springing clever cinematic traps that lean on the scares from the previous film, but also tread new ground. Minor gripes with CGI aside, the emergence of “The Crooked Man” is something that truly gave me chills. I’ll leave it at that. There’s also a sequence that I will call “the chair interview” that uses a subtle visual trick that is sure to be aped a hundred times in the next decade of horror. It’s a typical scary movie device elevated to high art by a gifted visual technician.
Even though the film is slightly inferior to its predecessor, it’s not for a lack of effort or creative panache. James Wan, even when tasked with making a cash-grab sequel, is always fighting to make his masterpiece and it shows. I respect that immensely. Just look at Insidious: Chapter 2, a movie that Wan had every right to phone in (and every opportunity given the rushed production). It’s a pretty solid sequel to a very solid flick. While both Conjuring films are of a higher quality than either Insidious entry, all four showcase a filmmaker who absolutely must flex his muscles any chance he gets.
Despite being a bit overlong, The Conjuring 2 does well by the pedigree established just three years ago. Heck, out of all of the horror sequels I can conjure (ha!) into my mind, it’s one of the best (Dawn of the Dead is still reigning champ). The tone is spooky, the story fulfilling, and the scares are always effective. Any of the weaknesses are garden variety for this type of thing, and are barely noticeable until after the fact. You know what I want to see, rights to the story notwithstanding? I want to to see The Conjuring: Amityville. Why not? Now we’ve got ourselves a solid trilogy.
Extra credit: Check out the documentary My Amityville Horror, in which you can see the real Lorraine Warren in action. But wait until after you see The Conjuring 2. Something about knowing that she’s a legitimate quack kinda hurts the fictionalized version of her character.
The Conjuring 2 opens in Philly theaters today.