THE CONJURING knocked us all on our butts in 2013. The evil haunting, paired with an incredibly sympathetic family, and the dynamic duo of Ed and Lorraine Warren just clicked with audiences and delivered an incredibly effective scary movie. When the ending of that film made it very clear that the filmmakers already had visions of “horror franchise” dancing through their heads, our interest was piqued. Then came ANNABELLE. Rushed out the door the very next year, the film captured little of the magic of THE CONJURING and clearly suffered from the lack of relationship to its inspiration. Now, two years later, we are finally getting to see what happens when director James Wan returns, gets his leading cast back, and what appears to be an ample budget. Thankfully, the sequel is actually pretty darn good.
THE CONJURING 2 starts with Amityville. One of the best know alleged hauntings in the US, and the main factor behind the Warren’s fame, Wan wastes no time in reminding the audience why we should care about these paranormal investigators. In a séance Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) tries her best to see what happened in the house and verify that it is in fact haunted. Her visions stray from the infamous murders to an unfamiliar basement. Rather than seeing the deaths that are known, she instead is confronted with a prophetic evil being and foresees her husband Ed’s (Patrick Wilson) death. This spook shakes her to her core and she later convinces Ed to take a break from their ghost hunting game.
Well wouldn’t you know, the very case that draws them back in is just picking up steam across the pond? The Hodgson family is barely scraping by with four kids and one working mother. Things begin to go bump in the night, which often leads to daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) getting flung across the house. After a little convincing the Warrens come to town to investigate the incident for the church. If they can verify that there is a demon there, the church will be able to authorize an exorcism. What goes down is a lengthy and tense encounter with a tricky ghost whose intentions are not nearly as easy to figure out then the Warrens originally assumed. Some inventive and creepy ghostly maneuvers keep you guessing about how the next turn in the Hodgson’s saga will end, and if they will all survive.
The film’s first half does an excellent job of scaring the audience without any cheap jump scares. The scares are cheap, I will concede, but not in the way we are typically duped into jumping out of our chairs. Rather than cutting back and forth quickly between scares, and having the film’s score tell you exactly when a scare is coming, the camera in THE CONJURING 2 stays steady. The camera barely cuts, spending its sweet time moving throughout a scene or the house, letting the audience scan every room for what should not be there. You feel uneasy because you don’t know when to expect the next big “Boo!” But then, just as you feel safe, the camera pans back a foot or two towards the hallway we just explored, and something new is there. This effect had me invested in the film far more than the cut-and-jump games that Hollywood tends toward. The problem was that the film stops doing this technique about 45 minutes in.
After the sinewy camera behavior stops, the film devolves a bit. It instead favors a more traditional shaky camera, jumping from action to reaction. This works very well, and it never leans into cheap scares, but I did miss the atmospheric shooting style from early in the film.
Aside from the cardinal sin of having smart people do dumb things in the climax of the film, THE CONJURING 2 is a solid horror film. With the summer horror releases gearing up for 2016, I hope that the rest of the horror films this year try to reach this high bar.