THE CONJURING 2
Directed by James Wan
I differ from many other members of the Horror Cult Films team in that I hated The Conjuring. Yes, it was slickly made and the door bit was amazingly done etc. But on the whole, I found it a dull non-entity that mostly relied on cinematic heritage to excuse being completely derivative (and the less said about spinoff Annabelle, the better). So you could imagine I wasn’t hugely enthused about a sequel. Yet seeing Wan return, despite having just made one of the highest grossing movies of all time (Fast and Furious 7), my curiosity was raised. And whether it was a case of me having changed since the first, or it really being a different beast, I actually rather enjoyed it.
Real life Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren are back for more spooky adventures, loosely based on their own accounts. As per the Bond franchise, the film opens on the end of a different investigation: this time into the Amityville house, resulting in a trauma that leaves our duo torn as to what they do next. However, on the other side of the Atlantic, a fresh evil is brewing in the London borough of Enfield. Peggy Hodgson (O’Connor) has been struggling enough with her husband having walked out, leaving four mouths to feed, bills aplenty and daily struggles with bureaucracy. And now she has to add a bloody demon to the list! At first, she assumes her kids are making it up, but before long the furniture’s flying, a scary old man keeps popping up and one of her daughters appears to be possessed. Who’s she gonna call?
Cue the Warrens coming out of possible retirement for another case. And what a case it turns out to be! Like the first half of Insidious, Wan shows himself to be adept at escalating tension via everyday objects, a sharp soundtrack, and nasty faces. Most of the scare sequences are expertly staged, with a thick atmosphere and sense of foreboding established very early on. Sure, it employs a number of genre tropes, yet for the large part it does them very masterfully. Save for an awkward introduction to one of the recurring spectres, The Crooked Man, the first two-thirds hit far more often than they miss. In particular, a late night section involving a fire engine, and a daytime one featuring a painting, are edge of the seat scenes. To Wan’s credit, he also doesn’t just stop at the first beat either. Instead, the ghostly going-ons are prolonged, with many of the most effective bits being codas to the big fright, occurring after most directors would have skipped to the next morning. Throughout his camera takes on a life of its own, gliding down hallways and out windows in a way that really communicates the omnipotence of the forces at work.
The fear he creates is well grounded by a cast that knows how to sell each bump in the night. Special mention must go to, the admittedly underused, Farmiga who once again shows why she has one of Hollywood’s best faces. The young actors are also excellent, taking to their roles well and being far more likeable than your average troupe of screen-kids. Especially Wolfe, playing Janet, on who most of the action is focused. Their performances are aided along by a decent script that takes its time to build up the character’s relationships, adding solid emotional stakes to the events. As such, come the final crescendo, when the choral voices are screaming and the demon is at full strength, people should be suitably invested. If only it’d gotten there earlier! Similarly to comedies, most horrors outstay their welcome around the 90-minute mark. Running at a patience-testing 134 minutes, Wan just about manages to hold the viewers’ attention from start to end.
However, in line with the first one, the final 20 minutes or so represent a bit of a climb-down. During this last chunk, the director resorts to the kind of CGI-driven kitchen-sink scares and overly earnest sentimentality that spoils numerous 12A movies. Elsewhere, it’s fairly easy to see where cuts could have been made. Annoyingly the overly-long subplot about the Warrens deciding whether or not to believe the Hodgsons is utterly undermined by the audience and them witnessing explicit evidence the events are genuine. This sort of ambiguity would be interesting were the story lead by the investigators. But given that the two groups don’t meet until around an hour in it makes for a sometimes frustrating second act by halting proceedings. There’s also a musical bit that, despite having a pay-off later, feels like an outtake and will likely act as a piss-break for audiences. Still, these are fairly small quibbles for a film that jolted me more than any other in Wan’s post-Saw career. Though on second thoughts, maybe I’ll need to rewatch the original.