Over the past three years, James Wan has quickly become one of my favorite directors. Initially believing him to be a maker of sub par horror films, I had stayed away from anything that had his name on it. However, three years ago I saw The Conjuring and found I had been wrong for so long. The film was rife with tension, suspense, frightening imagery and excellent cinematography and ascetics. In that time, I found myself going through his whole filmography and loving nearly everything I saw. Now, Wan returns to the directors chair once more for The Conjuring 2. Can lightning strike twice or was the first time just a fluke?
The story for The Conjuring 2 is well written however it seems to have lost something important in these past three years. The story begins in 108 Ocean Avenue with Ed and Lorraine Warren investigating the Amityville haunting. With The Amityville Horror being one of my favorite books of all time this opening excited me and though short Wan manages to craft a better Amityville story in five minutes then half a dozen or so films have over the past forty years. The story then shifts to it’s main focus of The Hodgson family in Einfield, England. Like all of Wan’s ghost films the film turns into a slow burn horror film. Now calm down, don’t be alarmed, the term “slow burn” may seem like an omen of boredom but it is a necessary form of storytelling. It allows the film to develop it’s characters so that we can understand and sympathize them as well as letting the horror and tension build up rather then unleashing everything at once. Though slow the film does a fine job of establishing it’s new characters which allows long periods where there is nor horror to be enjoyable as the characters can now suck you into the story. Once Ed and Lorraine get into the picture the film does feel as if it’s following the same basic steps as it’s predecessor as if the writers took everything from that film note for note. As such it feels like there’s very little new here once the second act gets going. It’s still a fine story rife with development as the Warrens and Hodgsons grow to know each other which leads to many endearing moments with the characters but one can’t shake the feeling of familiarity. In fact “familiarity” is one of this film’s weakest points. Too often I found myself realizing that this film felt an awful lot like an Insidious film with the use of astral projection into the spirit world, the look and style of the film as well the ghost in this feels like he would be more suited to Insidious. The film just has more of a Hollywood feeling as Wan too often finds himself trying to go bigger such as a scene when the ghost takes the form of a Slenderman type character which felt so out of place that it was jarring. This is what The Conjuring 2 has lost: It’s sense of identity. The previous film was a love letter to the horror films of the 1970’s and it was clear throughout with sets, costumes, tone, pacing and the use of mostly practical effects over modern techniques. The Conjuring 2 feels more like a modern ghost film with a relatively big budget and if not for Wan and company it would have been generic. After that is there anything good to be said about the story? Yes, though it falls into familiar territory and loses itself The Conjuring 2 still has some good things to offer in terms of story. A new aspect I enjoyed was the inclusion of a highly skeptic character who tries to prove that the haunting is a hoax. I find this to be refreshing since it adds another point of view and with the Einfield haunting having as many discrepancies as actual proof did make the film feel as if it wasn’t one sided on this issue. Of course there are still wonderful scares as well. As usual Wan is an expert when it comes to building up tension and suspense to scare his audience. Wan does rely on jump scares far too often though these still tend to be more effective then your typical horror film. But where Wan really shines are the quite, subtle moments. Moments where something is occurring out of focus or light plays tricks on something are the ones that struck me with a stronger sense of terror and stayed with me long after the film had ended.
The characters for The Conjuring 2 are well written
Ed and Lorraine Warren are still a fantastic duo. Their care for one another as well as the Hodgson family is one of the most endearing aspects of this film as well as the lengths they would go to keep everyone safe. Their love for one another as been a drive for these films and this time the film cranks that love up to 11 which makes their more dangerous moments all the more engaging and tense.
When it comes to the Hodgson’s the only two with any actual personality and depth are Janet and her mother Peggy. Janet is a very sympathetic character with her constant torment at the hands of the ghost but even with that she still manages to be strong in the face of such adversity. Peggy comes off as a more typical character in this type of movie but still a likable type nonetheless: the parent who can do nothing but stand aside and watch her child suffer. She tries, she tries everything to help Janet but there’s no much she can do against a supernatural foe and that makes her a sympathetic character. The remaining Hodgson children have very little to do and have little to no focus. One child, Billy, had only two tropes to his character: his stutter and his insane love of biscuits.
Maurice Grosse feels like a character who could have been so much better had there been more focus on him. He’s truly helpful to the Hodgson’s and one scene in particular was a very touching and memorable moment. The thing is the film jumps ahead well into the haunting and by this point Grosse has already been investigating and it feels as if the film just dumps him in with no explanation or establishment.
Acting for The Conjuring 2 is well done
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are wonderful as Ed and Lorraine Warren. The two have excellent chemistry with one another and both work well apart as they do together each having their own separate moment to shine on their own laurels.
Madison Wolfe does a fine job as Janet. She’s very convincing in her role both as a victim and in moments of possession where I often found myself unsettled by her performance.
Simon McBurney does well as Maurice Grosse. He may not have as much do to as he should but McBurney still gives a memorable performance and has a few exceptionally good scenes throughout the film.
Bonnie Aarons and Javier Botet both give scary and unsettling performances as the Demon Nun and Crooked Man respectively. Aarons is chilling as he monster making her presence known with very little effort. Botet is another story. Botet has been known for playing numerous monsters in numerous horror films throughout the world and his movements always make for horrifying creatures. The problem is that Botet is turned into a CG monster that feels too out of place in this film. A little makeup would have gone significantly further into making a better monster for this experienced actor.
The effects for The Conjuring 2 are well made yet off putting. The film relies too much on modern techniques and in a typical film they would have looked good. Heck they would have been more at home in an Insidious film. Though well made they still come off as just wrong for this film. Still The Conjuring 2 does have some good things to fall back on. The cinematography is still very good with numerous and wonderful scenes of well made tracking shots and other techniques that give the film an unsettling and other worldly feeling. The sets are also well made with the Hodgson home looking run down and decrepit as a haunted house should.
Final Thoughts: It may not be as good as it’s predecessor but at the end of the day The Conjuring 2 is still one of the stronger horror films you’ll see this summer. It falls too often into familiar territory and loses it’s sense of identity but a good slow burn storytelling, engaging characters, good acting and excellent scares make this an entertaining horror film and a fine addition to Wan’s ever growing and wondrous filmography.