I think it’s fair at this point to say that James Wan knows how to make a great horror movie. SAW was a suspenseful thriller (that contains less gore than you remember, and I really appreciate it for that), INSIDIOUS reminded audiences that subtle scares and substance could make for great horror, and THE CONJURING was just about the pitch perfect execution of an otherwise tired idea. Wan brilliantly decided to move the focus of the typical haunted farm house storyline over to the paranormal investigators looking into the matter, Ed and Lorraine Warren. So when the trailer for the sequel THE CONJURING 2 was released, I was cautiously optimistic about the reunion of this cast and crew, but could the sequel recapture the magic and frights of the original?
The sequel takes a look at another one of the Warren’s case files. This time around, the Warren’s are brought in to look into a haunting in Enfield, London in 1977. Across the pond from the Warren’s, the Hodgson family seems to be tormented by the relentless spirit of a previous tenant who fixates on the youngest daughter, Janet. Lorraine, still rattled from a demonic encounter in Amityville (yes, that Amityville), is apprehensive about getting involved, especially given the media circus surrounding both hauntings. Ed’s reassurance that they’re only there to observe convinces her that they should look into to the matter, despite her apprehensions. Once they arrive however, something seems very odd about this particular haunting compared to the others they’ve encountered. Can Ed and Lorraine get to the truth behind the spiritual disturbance plaguing this family before it’s too late?
Let’s talk about the good before anything else. The return of Wan in the director’s chair, as well as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens, is first and foremost the best thing this movie could have done, as their charm and chemistry bring a wonderful air of humanity into what could have been a cliché haunted house story. Wan, having stepped away from horror for a short time to work on the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series, executes some fantastically well-paced sequences, with many scenes knowing exactly how much to show you and how much to keep hidden of the monster lurking in the shadows. The acting, much like with the first one, is still spot on, which isn’t an easy feat for a film with several child actors playing prominent characters. The new characters are all identifiable, and the returning characters are all still just as likable this time around. They even managed to find a way to incorporate Patrick Wilson’s fantastic singing voice, which is something I can always get behind.
The cinematography is on point again, and the change of location looked as though it allowed the crew to play around with the overall look of the film to differentiate it from the first. While the original focused on orange hues to convey the setting of a remote American farmhouse, this film embraces the gloomy English overcast by incorporating a lovely grayscale that looms over the characters throughout the story. The practical effects, when they’re used, are highly effective, so much so that when the film chooses to incorporate CGI, it feels off and inconsistent. And this is, in my opinion, the biggest problem with the film. The first film didn’t need a CGI demon doing CGI demon things to be scary, all it needed was wires, good make up, believable performances, and clever editing to keep you up at night. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so highly praised. This film, in a misguided attempt to up the ante, incorporates CGI spectral transformations, moving objects, and damage to the house. Sometimes these scares are well integrated, other times they seem highly out of place, effectively taking you out of the moment, causing the scare itself to fall flat. The use of CGI with an entity called The Crooked Man, was particularly disappointing, because at times he looked very cool and very menacing, and other times he simply looked out of place among the actors and the set. The same can be said about a spectral nun that pops in and out of the film. One of the best sequences in the film is a scene in which this spirit lures Lorraine into a dark room. There was certainly CGI involved in this scene, but it was used sparingly, and felt earned. Towards the climax of the film, however, the use of CGI just seemed far too prevalent, especially when compared to what we’ve seen what this director can do without it.
As far as the story goes, it’s pretty much on the same caliber of the first. There is a family being terrorized by an angry spirit, and they need Ed and Lorraine’s help. Ed and Lorraine are reluctant, but ultimately can’t turn down a family in need. The danger threatens their own safety, and ultimately they need to rely on their love and faith in each other if they hope to combat the evil they’re confronting. This time around, they actually do manage to mix things up a bit by making Lorraine’s encounter in Amityville far more relevant to the plot than Annabelle was in the original. I enjoy anytime these movies choose to make Lorraine a point of focus, and I appreciate that she takes on a bigger role in the climax of this film compared to the first.
Ultimately, assessing this film comes down to one big question: is it as good as the first film? Well, no, but that doesn’t make it bad by any means. It’s not a great follow up, but it is a good one, one that I’m certainly glad I saw and would be happy to watch again. If you’re a fan of the first one, you’ll probably like this one as well, just be sure to adjust your expectations a little going in. If your not a fan of the first, then this film probably isn’t your speed (or this genre for that matter). As for me, I will be happy to watch this one back to back with the original when it gets released on DVD. And who knows? With so many case files, we may just see the Warrens on the big screen again in a few years. This series, though not perfect, seems to have struck a cord with me with its mix of genuine scares, great performances, and likable characters. For all this film’s faults, I still very much enjoyed this outing, and I would be happy to see even another film of the Warren’s taking on a new case. If we do get another sequel, I’ll be there with popcorn on opening weekend, because James Wan and horror is a combination as good as, well, popcorn and the movies.
What did you think of the film? Did you enjoy another adventure with the Warren’s or do you think haunted house movies are dead on arrival? Be sure to let us know @TheMovieChickk!
Did you miss the first film when it came out? Well get caught up with THE CONJURING on Amazon.com!