As far as conventional horrors go, The Conjuring (2013) was one of the best we’ve had in recent years. Despite the clichéd haunting plot we’ve seen countless times, legendary Aussie director James Wan was able to make the most of it with his reliable bag of tricks, combining a creepy atmosphere with well-timed “Boo!” moments to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Wan did not direct the failed prequel, Annabelle (2014), but he’s back again to helm the sequel to The Conjuring, imaginatively titled The Conjuring 2. This time, the world’s most renowned ghost-hunting duo, the Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), have returned to tackle the infamous Enfield Haunting in the UK. There was actually a recent TV mini-series called The Enfield Haunting starring Timothy “Mr Turner” Spall and Matthew “Mr Darcy” Macfayden, which was actually pretty decent and most likely closer to what really happened than the hyper-sensationalized version told in The Conjuring 2.
Anyway, like The Conjuring, the sequel focuses on both the Warrens and the family being haunted, the Hodgsons — a single mother (Australia’s very own Frances O’Connor) and four children living in suburban England — in particular the second-eldest daughter Janet, played superbly by Madison Wolfe. Some of you might already know the story because the haunting is perhaps the most well-known in British history, but if you don’t, brace yourself for some scary shit.
The film shifts back and forth between the Warrens and the Hodgsons, telling essentially two stories simultaneously. To Wan’s credit, splitting the screen time actually adds to the film rather than take away from it. The Warrens get a bit more of a personal story this time, and it’s good to see actors the calibre of Farmiga and Wilson strut their acting chops. They’re both really good, and their fantastic chemistry helps make their relationship the core the movie.
As with most haunting films, this one plays out as you would expect, starting with a few little weird things here and there to whet the appetite before all hell breaks loose and the ghostbusters come in to save the day. Notwithstanding the boiler-plate structure, Wan works his magic again, turning the first half of The Conjuring 2 into one of the most terrifying movie experiences I’ve sat through in years. I’m sure watching in the cinema definitely helped the atmosphere, but it really is due Wan’s masterful control over everything that is happening – from the atmosphere and the characters (it makes a huge difference when you care about them) to the use of darkness and lightning, and especially the blaring score and sound effects. I’m not going to lie: there were a few sequences where I had an anxious inner debate with myself on whether to shut my eyes for a couple of seconds.
After the nerve-wracking first half, however, the film does settle down, and the rest of the movie isn’t nearly as frightening. Though the rhythm picks up and tensions are supposed to rise, by the time the Warrens arrive to do their thing I had started to get that “here we go again” feeling. While Wan was fantastic in making me forget about how conventional the film was in the first half, in the second half he was less successful. There were still some decent moments as the film ramped up to its finale, but for the most part I found myself significantly more relaxed that I was in the first hour or so.
I also didn’t like the way the script wrapped up the story in a way that connected the dots and made the different strands converge. Frankly, in trying to find a way for help the story make sense it actually made things more confusing and make less sense. And of course, the movie definitely is too long at 2 hours and 14 minutes. It’s never boring or slow, but shaving 15-20 minutes off would have been welcome.
On the whole, The Conjuring 2 is a solid follow up to its predecessor. The first half was decidedly scarier than the latter, though even with a fair share of flaws, the film is still a top-tier horror flick, the type that only comes around a handful of times a year.
4 stars out of 5
PS: A new spin-off called The Nun is apparently in the works.