From the first day of 2016, I was more excited for The Conjuring 2 than most of the year’s upcoming movies.
No, I’m not a huge fan of horror movies. I usually enjoy them as much as I enjoy sleeping with the lights on. But I am a fan of good movies, and 2013’s The Conjuring is as close to perfection as modern horror is going to get. I believe it belongs up there with influential classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby: both profoundly scary and spiritually profound.
So, I was understandably hyped for the sequel when I discovered the same director and screenwriters behind the first were sticking around. Now that I’ve seen it and the fear shakes are finally subsiding, how do I feel?
I am not disappointed in the slightest. Even if it sacrifices a bit of demonic soul in favor of streamlining the scares, The Conjuring 2 is another masterwork from horror artist James Wan. It succeeds in every way the first did, just to a slightly lesser degree — though it does have a few advantages.
James Wan doesn’t direct movies that are creepy while they last, he engineers soul-shaking traumas that rattle your core. He accomplishes this through one major understanding: lasting horror isn’t a series of jump scares with a camera pointed at them; it’s submerging the audience in a fully realized world. And what better to drown an audience in than fantastic filmmaking technique?
Direction and cinematography rule The Conjuring 2 with a tight grip. Just like its predecessor, the movie never ceases to look gorgeous. The sequel’s style is fluid and beautiful even with an entirely different cinematographer on the job — it’s clear that Wan deserves the credit for meticulous visual planning.
The Conjuring 2’s camera movements and visual form lull you in with an inviting air. There’s no desire to cover one’s eyes when the direction is this sure-handed, this dreamlike… and once you’re fixated, you’re in the perfect position to be shocked by that which so elegantly seduced you! The sound design works to similar effect. There is much terror to be found in clever alternations between silence and noise.
While the first movie paid equal attention to the terrorized Perron family and the demonologists that aided them, the sequel belongs to the latter. Most horror movies don’t present characters as much more than sacks of meat for the slaughter, and attempts at character attachment normally fall flat when the audience has been trained to expect grisly fates. Wan’s own Insidious faltered thusly: the family and paranormal investigators were more vehicles moving towards scares than real people.
But Ed and Lorraine Warren, depicted marvelously by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, are the beating heart of this haunted tale. Building up from their development groundwork in the first Conjuring, screenwriters/twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes conjure up a married couple that is emotionally compelling. Farmiga’s Lorraine is an especially empathetic character, as the spiritual toll demon hunting takes on her parallels our threshold for experiencing the devilish paranormal in film. Ed and Lorraine’s humanity pours out in contrast to the inhumane hauntings: this both raises the story’s personal stakes and makes the central demon all the more disturbing.
The screenplay’s renewed focus on the Warrens does have an unintended consequence: the universal stakes are dulled. The Conjuring maintained an immensely strong theme of good vs. evil — God vs. demonic forces — and even ended with a quote insisting that both were real and sides must be chosen. It did a better job at being a Christian movie than most “Christian movies”.
The Conjuring 2 is better paced than its prequel and the central characters receive more attention, but the underlying spiritual battle is obscured by the increased focus on those aspects. The atmosphere feels more conventional without a cosmic spiritual war waged within it.
But now for the million-dollar question: is it scary? Of course it is. It’s deeply unsettling, and economically so from start to finish. The horror isn’t as constant as The Conjuring’s — I recall being beyond terrified for thirty straight minutes of the original — but The Conjuring 2 features bursts of fright that will still keep you up at night. If it wasn’t nearly as great a film as the first, I’d be too scared to watch it again.
Oh, and extra points for the most clever visual foreshadowing I’ve seen in a while. There are hints hidden in the background of integral scenes. Keep a look out if your eyes aren’t shut with fear.
★★★★½ (4.5 out of 5)