Three years ago James Wan gave us one of the best horror movies in recent years in The Conjuring which introduced us to new horror heroes Lorraine and Ed Warren, gave us the spin off in Annabelle and got everyone afraid of the clapping sound. And now Wan and the main characters return in The Conjuring 2, a film that, while only slightly, is actually better than the predecessor.
Ed and Lorraine are called to London. It is year 1977 and the young girl, Janet, one of the several kids under the care of single mom, appears to be the object of possession of the previous owner of the house. While Ed and Lorraine are tying to determine whether the case is genuine or a hoax, Lorraine herself starts being tormented by horrific entity.
There are several things that separate The Conjuring films from other films in the genre. First, they blend classic horror story with modern execution. The haunted house and possessed kids are some of the most famous horror templates. The films don't really offer new spin on those, just tell those stories with diligence, tension and frights. But given the state of the modern horror, the good script and actual atmosphere of tension is quite an accomplishment in itself.
However, those films, while relying in classic sources of scares, are shot in a very modern way - the way Wan and his cinematographer use the space and all the various techniques is so admirable. The scene that I see a lot of people complimented is when we see Ed in the foreground and Janet morphing into Bill, in blurry lense, in the background. But there are tons of ingenious moments like that throughout the movie. You never know what camera will do and what it will show you and that builds one hell of a tension.
What Wan also does so well is putting his own spin on the cliched jump scares. There is whole variety of jump scares here - achieved both with music, sudden appearance of something on the screen etc. But Wan does his double jump scare technique - when something jumps on the screen because it happens in so many horror films you are conditioned to think "oh that is it' and then something even worse happens. Sometimes Wan doesn't even have to do that - even though you know what's gonna happen you are still scared, like in the scene when Lorraine looks in the mirror and each time she does the demon nun is closer and closer to her.
Another thing that sets this movie apart from other horror films these days, is that James Wan is someone who genuinely loves making those films. He was apparently offered a huge amount of money to make the next Fast & Furious movie but declined, because he loves telling scary stories and he wanted to make The Conjuring 2. Wan's movies keep getting better and better. He started with Saw, then followed it with underappreciated Dead Silence, then gave us creepy Insidious and The Conjuring, which until The Conjuring 2 was his best film. I saw few behind the scenes videos and you can see how passionate this guy is about horror genre. And he really gets it - he knows what is scary and what the audience is waiting for.
There is also the impressive commitment both from the crew and the cast - the set was blessed on the first day of filming and wonderfully kooky Farmiga has been talking about bizarre and scary occurrences during filming, while promoting the movie.
The film has several set pieces which are very rich and memorable - from what I think is the scariest scene in the film taking place in the study - to the final moments in London house, but the one that impressed the most was the film's opening with Loraine experiencing some sort of astral projection in Amityville. Farmiga moves and does this thing with her hands as if she was holding a shotgun and then the gunshots wounds appear on the victims. It's spectacularly brilliant sequence and even though I'd say that this opening is the film's best sequence, it doesn't take away from the rest of the movie, even if they can't quite match its brilliance.
The most remarkable thing about both The Conjuring films is the amount of heart they have. And that is all hanks to the great story and the main acing duo and their remarkable chemistry. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson give beautiful performances as the Warrens. What we could sense in the first movie is articulated here - how Ed and Lorraine are both outsiders and how they found each other. They both tell their story to Janet, revealing in the process the underlying truth - they are each other soul mates and through their belief in each other, understanding and love they are each other's miracles.
While watching Farmiga and Wilson together you can't shake off the feeling that you are really watching a married couple. They both seem so familiar and comfortable around each other. The human interaction in these films, being so real and believable, grounds the entire thing in reality no matter how many ghosts, demons or apparitions we see on the screen. We genuinely care for these people and we don't want them to get hurt.
Wan does spend a lot of time building the atmosphere of dread and terror but he gives the same care to the underlying love story. And he mixes these two in having the creepy demon follow Lorraine and torment her with the possibility of losing Ed. And isn't this just another thing that we all universally fear? Finding someone who loves us for who we are, who is our life and then losing that person? That element wasn't there in the first movie - in fact in the first movie it was Ed worrying about Lorraine and how much of a toll her gift takes on her. This time it is Lorraine fighting with the crippling fear of losing the man she loves. And it always me sad knowing that Ed has passed away in real life, several years ago. Lorraine is still alive.
Apparently that demon was some sort of horned creature originally, but then they reshot scenes with it in a new for - of a nun, one which became already such a big deal and sensation, that is getting her own spin off film. A lot of people laugh how that demon looks like Marilyn Manson and you can see where they are coming from but trust me, it doesn't make it any less scary.
The one thing that I didn't like was that there were actually three separate entities in the movie - a demon, a ghost and....a crooked man. Yes, the iconic boogeyman makes an appearance here and while it's very creepy I felt it was jarring and didn't really fit the rest of the movie. Also having just one antagonist instead of several is always better in a horror movie - when there is just one villain the heroes must deal with, it appears more invincible than few of them which are gradually being defeated by the protagonists. I always use the example of Alien with just one monster and Aliens with hundreds of them. Now come on. Which one was scarier?
The design of the creatures is very cool and bares some resemblance to Wan's other demonic entities - from Insidious films, first Conjuring and Dead Silence. The man has a real talent to introduce all those iconic monsters - the doll from Saw, Annabelle, The Lipstick demon from the first Insidious...Wan has actually managed to create one big fright universe with his films and there are some striking similarities between the opening of this movie and the realm of The Further known from Insidious films.
Another layer of terror comes from the fact that yet again it is the children who are tormented and their mother is powerless to help them. It is the will to help that finally gets Lorraine and Ed there and in the explosive finale it is not only the fight between humans and the supernatural but the battle for Lorraine to keep Ed alive. Rarely great execution, compelling story and great acting are all there in horror films these days and that is what makes The Conjuring 2 so unique.
The Conjuring 2 (USA, 2016, 133 min)
Plot: In 1977, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren travel to
London, England, where single mother Peggy Hodgson believes that
something evil is in her home. When Peggy's youngest daughter starts
showing signs of demonic possession, Ed and Lorraine attempt to help the
besieged girl, only to find themselves targeted by the malicious
Director: James Wan
Writers: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Johnson
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe