Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Plot: The Warrens (Farmiga, Wilson) are called to investigate the Enfield Hauntings to determine if they are a hoax or real, but the couple are dealing with their own demons. Literally!
When James Wan left the world of horror to move onto the heady heights of action movies, it was a bittersweet day. It was sweet, because Wan gave us the best Fast and Furious movie of the lot and the trailer suggests that Wan’s Aquaman might be the DC movie to learn from the Marvel formula. But it was also a very bitter and sad day for Wan fans, because he was capable of some of the greatest horror movies to date. That original Saw movie is heads above the gory sequels. Insidious is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. And The Conjuring brought the smarts back into the cheesy fright-fest movie. But with that, it felt like we lost James Wan forever. Imagine the surprise and delight when the Conjuring’s sequel announced Wan would take up the mantle as director once more. And, as the curtains close on this chilling horror masterpiece, the genre is definitely better with the superb director.
The irony of Wan returning to the Conjuring is that he finds his biggest rivals being sequels and spin-offs of his own creations. Annabelle, Insidious 4… there is a sense that Wan is his own competition here and he rises to the occasion with remarkable flourish. The thing that Wan manages that, arguably, his competition doesn’t, is that he recognises the script as something more than a horror. While it definitely delivers in the scare factors, Wan doesn’t only dip his toes into the horror waters to get the best out of his movie. The first Conjuring felt like it was more than a ghost story, but a paranormal investigation movie. Conjuring 2 continues this trend, feeling like a detective story that happens to have the victim and the monster being the same person. There is a tightly woven mystery at play here, as we cut from the suffering family being plagued by a supposed elderly man who died generations ago in the house. But as well as that we have Franka Potente and Simon McBurney arguing whether the haunting is actually real. Wan cleverly only shows the creepier moments from the family’s point of view, so the reality of the haunting is shrouded in mystery for quite some time. In the middle act, this provides a lot of the Conjuring 2’s power, as it asks its audiences to think. It’s a surprising treat when a horror film asks you to engage in intelligence for a change. But it’s not just the smarts, which the first Conjuring also managed. Wan never forgets that he has a story with beating characters and he has just as much fun exploring the players of the story, as he does spooking the audience. Ed and Lorraine Warren are terrific heroes, real life paranormal experts that Wan’s movies have brought into the levels of superheroes. When they aren’t being cool (Patrick Wilson strolling into a haunted house with zero fucks given is one great reason to stick with this series), they are developing as characters. The movie enjoys adding a thin layer of romance to proceedings as each adventure reminds the couple why they are together. It’s hardly soppy, needless sub-plots, merely subtle reminders that the Warrens are the cutest couple in the horror genre. Wan doesn’t stop with the two lead characters, adding touching moments to the supporting cast too. McBurney has the role of paranormal investigator on the sidelines, but there is a scene gifted to him that brings his character more depth. Wan even goes as far as breaking up the scares for a sweet scene that sees Patrick Wilson play guitar to the scared family. The greatest scene in this film, and perhaps Patrick Wilson’s career, could very well be Ed Warren impersonating Elvis during a rendition of ‘Falling In Love With You’. And credit must be given to a horror movie that doesn’t end on a traditional spooky cliff-hanger or jump scare, but merely a scene of a couple dancing together on the kitchen tiles.
But the joy of Conjuring 2 is that, unlike other movies that make their horrors emotional and thought-provoking, the scares are still well and truly present. In fact, this is, perhaps not the scariest of Wan’s work, but definitely the most unrelenting. There is so much story to cram in that The Conjuring 2 ends up being a tight two hour movie, where little time is allowed for the red herring jump scares. For example, to get the Warrens into the story, the ghost needs to have a substantial effect on the family being haunted, so the spookiness needs to hit hard and fast to even get the characters into the plot. It means that this is a horror that has no ‘oh, it was just the cat’ false alarms. When something starts creaking in the house, it is very likely that there will be a scary monster on the other end of the corridor. This leaves another problem that other horror movies often suffer. If the scares are so frequent, will we get bored of the scaring? Wan answers this with some keen direction that boasts the same imagination that pulled the Fast and Furious movies out of the realms of tediousness. There are some fantastic scary moments here that I won’t spoil by describing them. Look out for a painting of a Nun that results in a chilling spectacle. And there is a subtle piece of trickery with an out of focus girl turning into a monstrous figure so slowly that you don’t even realise it is happening until it’s over. On the whole, Wan proves himself more than capable of handling the horror, The Conjuring 2 constantly surprising the audience. It has a few wobbles, mainly with the addition of the Crooked Man, which must have seemed like a fun sub-plot at the time, but he is lost amongst the busyness of the story, so he is never done justice. However, there is a particularly fun moment when the Warrens salvage his zoetrope toy and place it on a shelf opposite Annabelle. There is a fun sequel there just waiting to be unlocked.
Final Verdict: Wan’s return to horror is a wondrous event. He makes sure the Conjuring sequel isn’t just another horror cop-out; easily stronger than the first.