THE CONJURING 2 Review

One of the things I really appreciated about The Conjuring was that director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, Furious 7) didn't approach the film as if it were a horror film, but more a serious drama about a family in crisis. With this sequel Wan has created a similarly framed film, but this time with more emphasis on the aspect that allows him to continue this franchise without the majority of the principle characters from the original. In being able to utilize Ed and Lorraine Warren (played once again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and their vast catalog of paranormal encounters Wan has basically created a formula for which he can produce numerous sequels based on the most interesting case files of these demonologists. As long as Wilson and Farmiga are willing to return there is no reason as to why we won't be witness to several more Conjuring films. This doesn't seem to be the hidden intent of the filmmaker though as he is clearly fully engulfed in the present and in the responsibility of not only respectfully bringing the Warrens' stories to life, but those of the victims involved in these cases. With The Conjuring 2 Wan tackles what is known as the "Enfield poltergeist". Set in 1977, this sequel is loosely based on when the Warrens traveled to north London to help a single mother and her four children escape their house that was plagued by malicious spirits. In classic Wan fashion, The Conjuring 2 is beauty of a horror film. As breathtaking in its visual grandeur as it is frightening in its moments of horrific ecstasy. At a runtime of nearly two hours and fifteen minutes this is an epic of sorts in the horror genre, a full-on deep dive not only into what makes people afraid of the dark, but into the characters, the people that are believed to have experienced such events and how they deal with such trauma in as human and as logical a fashion as can be hoped for. The Conjuring 2 is a slow burn of character development paired with a surplus of seeming proof and doubt as to what is really going on. Plaguing his film with confusion and integrating the Warrens all the more vitally, Wan has created a horror film that, while not necessarily transcending the genre, is certainly the closest thing we've had to a film redefining the genre since its predecessor.

Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) are pulled into a demonic possession situation against their better judgment. 
Beginning by making audiences privy to the involvement Ed and Lorraine had with the Amityville murders in 1974, The Conjuring 2 immediately sets its mood by placing Lorraine in a state of mind that has her opposing any new inquiries into their services for fear of a vision she had concerning her husband. With the image of a pale and grimacing nun haunting her dreams Lorraine requests from Ed that they keep their schedule strictly to lectures and talk show appearances. Meanwhile, across the pond we are introduced to Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) who has just recently become a single mother after her husband left her with four young children for a woman who lives around the corner and whom he'd impregnated with twins. Peggy is struggling to make ends meet while her youngest daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe), is dealing with the absence of her father by playing with Ouija boards and getting caught with cigarettes at school. Though it is unclear how long the Hodgson clan has lived in the house in which they currently reside when we come to meet them it is almost immediately after we come to know them that strange things begin to occur, specifically around Janet. It is with a surprising amount of ease that Janet's mother, the local police, and local paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) all become witness to the strange occurrences within the Hodgson household and furthermore, the seeming demonic possession from which Janet is suffering. In fact, it seems there is almost so much outright proof in the beginning that Wan makes it nearly impossible for his audience to be skeptical. Whether this is Wan's intent or not it certainly allows for the audience to give in quicker to the fact that what is happening is indeed real and not a side effect of a mental disorder or some other type of hoax. Within this context specifically it ends up working to the films advantage. In being cautious so as to not be too willing to immediately jump to the conclusion that what was occurring was indeed a genuine demonic possession, Wan instead insists on assuming as much so that as the film plays out he can twist those thoughts and expectations on their head.

Of course, this should come as no surprise given the master of horror that Wan has become over the last decade, but it is still impressive to know that he can both embrace the tropes of the genre while subverting or more upending those expectations by delivering a jump scare not where we expect him to place it, but two beats later when we've come to believe we're firmly in the safe zone. The Conjuring 2 was able to genuinely send chills throughout my body and make me jump out of my skin a total of three times while a handful of other scares were good enough to warrant a sigh of relief once they'd passed. Not that a horror film should be judged solely on how many times it frightens you, but I more or less state this up front as a way to comment on the methodical pacing that Wan enlists this time around (this sequel is a full twenty minutes longer than its predecessor) in order to develop Janet as this authentic little girl who has her own fears and concerns about growing up, about losing her father, about her mother being able to provide for her and her three siblings, and then with the added nuisance of this spirit that won't leave her alone there comes to be this nagging sense she'll never be able to rid herself of this burden. While the film can occasionally feel like little more than a series of endless scares with no particular drive to the narrative this again comes to feel like a very precise decision on the part of Wan and his three co-writers who build up this sense of meandering randomness so that when certain revelations begin to come to light in the third act they resonate all the more because of the relationship we've already developed and the wherewithal we've already built up. That the film does feel aimless at certain points only allows for it to play out in the fashion it does while keeping the audience in the dark about which turns it might actually take. To a degree, it is that Wan doesn't present this series of events in the way we expect him to in accordance with the unspoken rules of horror films essentially giving us little to no indication of what to expect. It's a simple, very minor change to the horror template, but it ends up making a huge impact on how shaken the film leaves viewers as they walk out of the theater.

Janet Hidgson (Madison Wolfe) is the victim of a poltergeist in The Conjuring 2.
While the child stars and of course McBurney and O'Connor are rather excellent in their supporting roles this is very much a movie about the Warrens and what they must endure to go from encounter to encounter and remain somewhat sensible. In order to keep this particular case of an exceptional nature the film frames the Warren's in that old reliable conundrum of swearing not to take any more jobs, but being unable to say no when it comes time as it feels wrong not to utilize the skills God has given them. Speaking of God, the Warrens' religion and faith is a key aspect of who they are and how they come to deal with all they see. While, strictly from a writing and filmmaking standpoint, the Warrens work as a unique angle into these typical scary movie set-up's while at the same time adding layers to these now familiar events, it is from a pure character perspective that this idea of faith and family is consistently reinforced and referenced so as to not lose sight of what brought them to this place. Farmiga and Wilson play this couple so earnestly and with such trust and dedication to one another and to God that it lends them a sense of authenticity that we might not otherwise connect with were this in the hands of lesser actors. Farmiga is such a pure and calming presence as Lorraine that to see her in these heightened moments of stress and terror is insanely worrisome while there is an inherent trust that comes with meeting Ed. Also, if they ever decide to make a larger than life Elvis Presley biopic-Wilson is your man. Beyond the acting though, what makes The Conjuring 2 so large and hulking when compared to other recent horror releases is the attention to detail. Simple things such as the state of the furniture and walls inside the Hodgson residence or the touches of certain letters within the Warrens' house that one might pick up on, but will never put together until more of the pieces fall into place. It is the culmination of these things-from the set design to Joseph Bishara's haunting score (not to mention the creepy use of hymns throughout) and of course the cinematography and trademark circular tracking exteriors that lend a sense of dread now very specific to Wan. Naturally, The Conjuring 2 is a culmination of all Wan has learned up to this point and with how much he continues to excel I can only be as excited as I am terrified about what kind of horror he will deliver next.