The Conjuring 2 actually did it. Usually, when a horror movie hits big at the box office, there’s a mad scramble to make sequels to capitalize on the success of the first film. And usually, in that mad scramble, everything that made the first film a success is lost, and franchises are built with weak foundations that ultimately sputter out, or become so laughably bad that the franchise quickly dies out. Luckily for us, The Conjuring does not follow that failed model, and the sequel hits on all cylinders with a frightening fury.
The highly-stylized adventures of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) make for a wonderful franchise, and The Conjuring 2 proves that, as it surpasses the first film in almost every way, without falling on tired tropes or sacrificing what made the first film a truly scary experience.
The Conjuring 2 opens as the Warrens are wrapping up the Amityville case. Lorraine (Farmiga) organizes a seance to try and confront the spirits in the iconic Long Island house, and what she sees absolutely shakes her (and the audience) to the core, so much so that she asks Ed (Wilson) if they can take a break from investigating and he agrees.
At the same time, a struggling single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her two daughters, Janet (Madison Wolfe) and Margaret (Lauren Esposito) and two sons, Billy (Benjamin Haihj) and Johnny (Patrick McAuley) are trying to get by in Enfield, a borough of London in England. When strange things start to happen to the family in their Green Street home, particularly to Janet, the media firestorm forces the Vatican to ask the Warrens to investigate, and when they get to England, they find that an unspeakable evil is afoot — one that may even have ties to the horrors in the Amityville case. And like the previous film (and the Amityville Horror), this is based on a true story.
The Conjuring 2 conjures up most of its scares because director James Wan knows how to play the audience like a cheap violin. His shot set-ups and use of angles keeps the viewers uneasy. And when there are jump scares (and there are, trust me), the pay off is well worth it. Wan will frame a shot with an actor to the bottom right of the screen, and the audience will be focused on the dark, shadowy area in the center of the shot. The heightened music and sound effects just keep adding to the feeling of unease, as maybe there’s something in the shadow and maybe there’s not.
By the time the scene resolves, your heart is racing one way or another, and you either jumped out of your seat — it happened to me admittedly three times, and how the poor guy who was sitting in front me doesn’t have whiplash from one of his jumps is beyond me — or the hairs on the back of your neck got a healthy workout by standing on end. There was one scene near the end of the film — in the denouement, actually — where a woman in the theater outright screamed. Not as a joke. Not for the laughs of the audience. It was real; she was scared.
Wan is the absolute master of this. He proved that he could make a more mainstream film in last summer’s Furious 7, but horror — atmospheric, tension-building horror — is definitely his forte. There is one scene midway through The Conjuring 2 when Lorraine goes into Ed’s study, supposedly in the safety of their home. The shadowplay, and the implementation of the aforementioned shot set ups, and the use of a demonic nun’s face in a painting was so well done, that two nights later, I’m still seeing it when I close my eyes to go to sleep. I guess you could say I’m haunted by it.
The Conjuring franchise is doing it right. Three years separated the first film from the second, and the almost guaranteed success here will dictate a third film. There are some interesting Warren cases still to be explored, and I’m sure screenwriters Casey and Chad Hayes (along with Wan) will soon be sorting through them to find the subject for The Conjuring 3. This is franchise that is actually getting better with each installment, as The Conjuring 2 bests the first film in almost every way, and I say this as a huge fan of the first film. I just hope that they take their time and do it right.
The Conjuring 2 is a terrifying exercise in getting the heart pumping and the exfoliation that comes from constant goosebumps and hairs that stand on end. James Wan and his actors have once again delivered a damn near perfect horror movie, one that relies on good old fashioned tension and not on cats jumping out of shadows, or even gore. All The Conjuring 2 needed to scare the bejeezus out of me was a demonic nun and and old man named Bill. And scare me it did.
The Conjuring 2 is rated R and is in theaters on June 10.
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