Review: James Wan's Sequel 'The Conjuring 2' is Magnificently Macabre
by Adam Frazier
June 8, 2016
Since the 1960s, Ed and Lorraine Warren have been the world's most renowned paranormal investigators. In 1971, the Warrens battled a malevolent entity that permeated a remote farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island — a case brought to the big screen in James Wan‘s 2013 horror film, The Conjuring. Wan's follow-up, The Conjuring 2, picks up five years later, in 1976. In the film's prologue, the Warrens are called in to investigate another supernatural disturbance, this time in the small Long Island town of Amityville. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) hold a séance to summon the evil entity lurking within the walls of 112 Ocean Avenue. During the encounter, Lorraine is overwhelmed by a demonic presence that plagues her for months after.
"After everything we've seen, there isn't much that rattles either of us. But this one… This one still haunts me."
It's late 1977 when the Warrens come out of a self-imposed sabbatical and travel to London to take on the Enfield Poltergeist, one of the most documented cases in paranormal history. A malicious spirit has nested in the London home of the Hodgson family, terrorizing Peggy (Frances O'Connor) and her four children: Janet (Madison Wolfe), Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Billy (Benjamin Haigh), and Johnny (Patrick McAuley). Joining the Warrens are British paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) and Anita Gregory (Franka Potente), a German parapsychologist who believes the whole thing is a hoax.
Wan's The Conjuring 2 is a potent piece of supernatural cinema; the rare horror sequel that is as effective and engrossing as its predecessor. The atmosphere created by Wan's use of suspense and suggestion is palpable. Like Hitchcock, he lets the audience's imagination do the heavy lifting. Each sequence is intricate and layered, ratcheting up the tension with multiple scares building on top of each other. A scare that might be the climax of a scene in any other horror movie serves as a tantalizing and threatening hint of what's to come here. Wan takes an unsettling image and a startling sound and builds on it further, until the crescendo is truly terrifying.
The filmmaker's signature color palette of deep reds, pale yellows, and sickly greens is present, and the dingy interiors of the Hodgson home are freckled with mold and water stains, giving the impression that the house itself is infected by the demonic entity. In addition to Julie Berghoff's fantastic production design, there's a sense of geography that elevates the energy of the piece and plays with audience expectations.
In the first film, there's a shot that follows the Perron family as they move into their new home. The camera glides through the house, around kids unpacking and movers carrying furniture, and out into the backyard. Establishing a mental blueprint is important in a horror movie, because it creates a map for the viewer, allowing them to trace the movements of characters and explore the space's dark corners in their mind. It also allows the filmmaker to put something where it doesn't belong, which Wan relishes in doing.
In this new film, we have another fantastic tracking shot that starts outside, comes in through an upstairs window, and takes you all around the Hodgsons' dilapidated council house, showing you how the characters live and their relationships to one another. These complex yet effortless camera movements by cinematographer Don Burgess give the film a Spielbergian quality, further immersing us in the nightmarish shadow-world Wan has created.
The trappings of Wan's ghost story are insignificant without an emotional anchor, however. Luckily, The Conjuring 2 features some wonderful performances from Farmiga, Wilson, O'Connor, and newcomer Madison Wolfe as Janet. As chilling as it is, the film is also a love story, and the undeniable chemistry between Farmiga and Wilson gives life to Ed and Lorraine's partnership in a real way. Ed and Lorraine were soulmates, and their relationship is the touchstone around which everything else revolves. I could watch a dozen Conjuring movies, as long as Farmiga and Wilson are there, working together to conquer evil.
After the Amityville investigation, the Warrens were accused of being charlatans. During the Enfield case, they were the subject of skepticism and wariness from the outside world. Whether you believe the film's "based on a true story" tagline or not, one thing is for certain – James Wan is the real deal. Having created horror franchises like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring, Wan has established himself as the preeminent horror filmmaker of today.
My only issue is that the Enfield Poltergeist isn't too dissimilar from the film's previous subject matter. The Warrens have thousands of cases, including one about a demonic werewolf. As we've seen in their artifact room, filled with satanic altars, evil dolls, and haunted samurai armor, there's no shortage of interesting stories to be told. If this franchise is to continue, I hope Wan and screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes explore new directions next. An atmospheric slow burn with great performances and superior scares, The Conjuring 2 is a magnificently macabre film from a horror auteur who is one step closer to his masterpiece.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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