The Conjuring 2 (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★
After the terrible mess that is “Insidious: Chapter 2” which followed a refreshingly brilliant predecessor, I was worried about James Wan’s continuation of “The Conjuring,” yet another excellent modern horror addition in his increasingly impressive repertoire. It is a wonderful surprise then that “The Conjuring 2” is able to match its antecedent on a consistent basis, at times even surpassing it, and actually expands the characterizations of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga).
This time, the case takes the married couple to London where a single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her four children are haunted by the spirit of an old man who used to live in their home. The situation is seemingly triggered by Janet (Madison Wolfe) bringing home a home-made Ouija board and, along with her sister (Lauren Esposito), attempting to communicate with the dead. Soon, Janet begins to wake up in the middle of night and finding herself in the living room near a leather chair where the old man passed away…
The writer-director approaches the material with a specific vision and confidence. He engages and terrorizes the viewer by setting up a familiar trope and delivering a punchline that is unexpected. At times the punchline is withheld. For example, the aforementioned Ouija board scene is set up exactly like other movies that feature the mysterious item. But the twist here is that the planchette is never shown moving on its own. We anticipate what might or should happen given our experiences with other, lesser horror films and the brilliance is that when nothing at all happens, our fears and worries are carried onto the next scene. This piggyback approach creates many dramatic payoffs.
Just about every performer on screen have a certain believability to them. For example, judging simply on looks, O’Connor who plays the mother has a certain air of working class to her. Such a comment is not meant to be glib. On the contrary, I commend the casting directors for choosing someone who fits the material extremely well. O’Connor’s character, Peggy, looks tired, her clothes are worn and plain, and she appears as though she belongs in a house that doesn’t have very many adornments or amenities. It shows us that the family have limited means and so they cannot just pack up and go upon their encounter of paranormal activity.
Another example is Wolfe who plays the main daughter who is terrorized by the demonic spirit. Her ways of commanding the camera when directly looking at it or away from it are completely different—an impressive quality especially for someone her age because so many performers across all genres do not possess such a skill. Because Wolfe is so magnetic, it is that much easier to get into the mindset of her character and relate to her plight. I also enjoyed her scenes with Wilson and Farmiga because she consistently proves that she has the power to match their subtleties.
Scares are potent and creative. Wan has a knack for allowing the tension to swell until it is almost unbearable. While numerous jump scares are employed, I argue that the best scenes are drawn out, allowing time for images, well-placed and modulated shadows, tone and atmosphere, camera movement, and score, to create a synergy. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” There is plenty of anticipation here.
“The Conjuring 2” is one of the most technically impressive horror films to have come out in the past few years—an accomplishment not to be underestimated due to the sheer number of horror movies released in one year alone. It is almost perfect visually. I just wish it had utilized less CGI, particularly the scene involving The Crooked Man coming after a little boy. Perhaps it might have been scarier if a giant, tactile puppet had been used instead of relying on the magic of a computer. Still, such a snag can be easily forgiven because just about everything else it offers is first-class.