Movie Review: The Conjuring 2
By Matthew Huntley
June 20, 2016

Begone, terrible dressed demon!

The Conjuring (2013) was somewhat of a rarity because it was a modern-day horror movie (set in the 1970s) that was actually scary. So often these days, horror movies seem intent upon generating shocks rather than scares, and they seldom get under our skin by inducing pure fear, but The Conjuring proved frightening and lived up to its label. It was also a bona fide box-office hit, and that means a sequel was inevitable.

With The Conjuring 2, director James Wan, who also helmed the first film, is again able to invoke some chilling scenes and the movie has a mostly intelligent screenplay, but overall it falls short of being satisfying to the point of being recommendable. Compared to most recent horror fare, it's on the higher quality side, but given how notoriously weak the genre is, that's not necessarily saying much. I did leave it hoping there would be another entry in the series because the characters and their situations are intriguing and have the potential to really shake us, and while this one does, it's not to the degree we hoped.

Like the original, this is another “true story” based on a case file of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the husband-wife team of paranormal investigators and authors who specialize in uncovering the mysteries behind disturbing, inexplicable phenomena, which often involves the macabre and supernatural. In the first film, they helped a family cursed by an evil spirit in Rhode Island; this time around, they journey across the Atlantic to Enfield, a small, working-class borough of London. The church in Enfield has reached out to the Warrens because a local family, the Hodgsons, are the latest victims of a malevolent presence - the soul of an old, sinister man - that possesses the youngest daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe).

Apparently, the old man wants nothing more than for the Hodgsons - including mother Peggy (Frances O'Connor), eldest daughter Margaret (Lauren Esposito), and two littles boys, Billy (Benjamin Haigh) and Johnny (Patric McAuley - to leave his former house, but as Ed and Lorraine soon discover, there's more to his motivations than that. In fact, this new case may be linked to a previous one in Amityville, New York, in which Lorraine had a vision of Ed's death. Now she senses the same evil spirit from that case, which manifests itself as a grotesque nun, in Enfield, so she's naturally hesitant to fully immerse herself in this latest investigation.

One of the aspects of the screenplay I admired was how the evil figure possessing Janet doesn't hide itself based on who happens to be in the room. I was expecting the usual scenes in which the little girl cries and pleas that something has taken over her but that no one believes her. Fortunately, the movie spares us these scenes by having all the characters, including the police, witness the strange and bizarre happenings, like the TV changing channels on its own; a toy fire truck moving across the floor; kitchen chairs repositioning themselves at the dinner table; and, most obviously, Janet speaking with the voice of an old man. I also liked that a tabloid television show conducts a story on the Hodgsons' and the reason Peggy allows it is because she thinks the exposure might encourage others to reach out and help them. It's qualities like these that make The Conjuring 2 more intelligent and believable because the way the characters rationalize, react and behave in their given situation seems it would be the same for real people.

The movie also has a lot of eerie imagery. Don Burgess' cinematography and Julie Berghoff's production design utilize skewed angles, creaky sets and subtle lighting to create an atmosphere that's cold, dreadful, and uninviting, especially the Hodgson house. One particular shot is so faint that we're not sure what we're looking at, only that it resembles a man standing over a bed in the dark. It's that uncertainty that gives us goosebumps. A similar shot makes it difficult for us to interpret the younger brother's tent, which could be something else altogether. On a visual level, the film captures that fear and anxiety we all experience when we can't make out what's in front of our face.

Something can also be said of the acting, especially Wolfe, who really makes us sympathize with young Janet. She evokes true anguish and I found myself caught off-guard by how much I cared about this girl and her family in hopes that the Warrens would find a solution to their problem. This was unexpected because few horror movies get us to actually feel for the characters, probably because they're usually archetypal pawns trapped in a screenplay that simply wants to terrorize them and therefore have little dimension or personality.

Despite its virtues, though, The Conjuring 2 eventually gets bogged down by the same old horror devices, like loud, omnipresent music that underlines the images too heavily; or the characters suddenly figuring things out and putting all the pieces together in a matter of seconds just as the climax is about to get underway; or an ending that takes place on a dark and stormy night, complete with lightning bolts; and another one of those “hang on for dear life” moments until another character appears in just the nick of time to reach their arm out.

Unfortunately, all of these things made me feel sort of cheated because the movie had me for much of its runtime. But as it devolved into absurdity, it's almost as if it went out of its way to lose me. The sensational effects were boring and distracting and the whole production eventually became so over-the-top and ridiculous that I could no longer forgive what it was doing.

The Conjuring 2 is a horror film, a horror sequel no less, that has a lot of good qualities, and we wish it had been able to push its tired genre conventions and cliches aside the whole time, but it wasn't meant to be. It's likely the filmmakers fell under the pressure of the success of the first film, which had a low-budget and became one of the most profitable horror movies in Hollywood history. They probably felt that in order to cover budget of the sequel, which was double that of its predecessor, they couldn't “risk” the movie not being overwrought. It's a shame, too, because this is one horror movie we hesitate giving up on, which is rare because there are so many we don't.