The Conjuring 2 (2016) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for terror and horror violence
Running Time: 134 min.
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe, Frances O'Connor, Simon McBurney, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Franka Potente
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Johnson
Review published June 10, 2016
James Wan (Furious 7, Insidious Chapter 2) returns as the director of the follow-up to his surprise smash hit film in 2013, The Conjuring, offering more malevolence-busting adventures of the self-described demonologist couple of Ed and Lorraine Warren, with Wan fave Patrick Wilson (Bone Tomahawk, Stretch) and Vera Farmiga ("Bates Motel", The Judge) returning to the roles for one more go-round.
The story starts in 1976, with an introductory nod to the case that made the Warrens most famous, in Amityville, the source of a best-selling book and a whole slew of horror movies. allegedly based on true stories. Their reputation spreads to other parts of the world, as the church sends the Warrens to Enfield (in reality, the Warrens were reportedly only there a day and played no significant role in the investigation, which reportedly went on for two years (not just a few days, as in this film)), a borough of north London (future filmmakers: can we please put a moratorium on use of The Clash's "London Calling" to introduce the city, please?), where they set about investigating the home of Peggy Hodgson (O'Connor, Best Man Down), a poor single mother, and her four children, whose youngest girl, Janet (Wolfe, Keanu), is frequently being harassed by what she considers to be malevolent spirit in the form of Bill Wilkins, an old man who died in the home and who forcefully declares his current ownership from beyond the grave. Loud noises, moving furniture, eerie voices, and ugly apparitions increasingly disturb the family until they're at wit's end. Meanwhile, the Warrens are plagued by the vision of a hideous demon in the visage of a scary Catholic nun that is haunting their dreams, while Lorraine contemplates a respite from their demon-busing activities after she sees the grisly death of her husband, Ed, in one of these visions.
While the film's introduction claims the events we're witnessing within The Conjuring 2 is based on a true story, this one's about as clichéd as your typical fictional horror flick, full of generic genre tropes that have a forced bombast that persistently undermines any claims to authenticity. Director and co-writer James Wan is mostly using the account to springboard a plethora of shrill jump-scares, a skill he's honed for most of his career, but he refreshingly had curtailed for the psychologically adept old-school pleasures of the first Conjuring film. Still, his use of camera and lighting ranks him among the best of his craft in recent years, and yet the jumps are often predictably delivered, with hallways and rooms that immediately tell us where and how the frights will be placed later, when the familiar rhythms of the editing and score tip us off that something scary is just about to occur (as with nearly all Wan's films, many involve a portable light source). These calculated moments of booga-booga are a poor replacement for genuine suspense and fright that should occur from a ghost story well told. It's not without scary moments -- a very creepy scene featuring a nightmarish painting of the aforementioned demon-nun with Marilyn Manson's face will have all but the most inured of horror watchers on edge -- but those jolts come more from the sensory stimuli involved from the sights, sounds and editing more so than how we feel about the potential victims within the scenes themselves. They would have been just as effective in just about any movie.
Attempts to add a bit of a love bond between the Warrens are an interesting touch, though we're not given enough of their background in either film to get too caught up in the romance. The film also tries, however feebly, to try to leave room for doubt on the part of whether the frights are real or not, but Wan fails to leave any ambiguity to the proceedings for about 90 minutes, which makes the sudden shift to entertaining the notion of a hoax absurd given all of the unexplainable horrors we've seen the characters have experienced up to that point. The first Conjuring film played its cards in terms of revelatory shocks close to its chest until the rip-roaring finale, while this follow-up can't wait to give you the scary images early and often, which leaves the finale feeling anticlimactic, as we've already grown accustomed to the frightful ghostly visages by this point.
To say it is a bloated film at nearly two-and-a-quarter hours is obvious; I can't think of a pure genre horror film that exceeds this run time, and so unnecessary since 104 minutes would certainly do when the story and characterizations are remarkably standard as delivered. I guess Wan thinks that if he tightened things up to just the facts of the matter, we'd miss the pleasures of Ed Warren crooning Elvis Presley's, "I Can't Help Falling in Love" on guitar, or the nonsensical inclusion of another creepy apparition in the form of The Crooked Man, a lanky cartoon character that seems to come to life from a musical nursery-rhyme zoetrope. James Wan certainly has a knack for a certain kind of scare, but his tendency to indulge in cutesy character moments, farfetched plot developments (there's a discovery made from the random intersection of reel tapes that will make many eyes roll), or over-the-top horror histrionics need to be corralled in order for him to be at his most effective. He managed to keep it contained the first time out, but this sequel sees him too concerned with playing to the crowd at the expense of the integrity of his story at large.
©2016 Vince Leo