Starring: Patrick Wilson (Watchmen), Vera Farmiga (Source Code), Frances O’Connor (A.I.), Madison Wolfe (Joy), Simon McBurney (The Theory of Everything), Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity), Simon Delaney (Begin Again), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Orphan Black)
Director: James Wan (Insidious)
Writers: Carey Hayes & Chad Hayes (The Conjuring) & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson (Orphan)
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes
Release Date: 10 June (US), 13 June (UK)
Whether you believe in any of the “true” ghost stories or not, you can’t deny they can make for great chilling entertainment. The Conjuring in my opinion is one of the best horror movies in recent memory, revitalising the feel of the classic horror films of the 1970s but with the modern tricks film technology provides us. It wasn’t a wholly original film, but it did enough to subvert some tropes of the genre whilst simultaneously making all of the old tricks seem fresh with its pitch-perfect building of suspense. Topping that is a pretty difficult task and, whilst The Conjuring 2 doesn’t quite do that, it admirably matches its quality in every way.
Structurally, the two films are very similar: after a mostly inconsequential cold open, a family is subjected to an increasingly haunting before the Warrens are brought in to investigate whilst also dealing with their own demons. It is a noticeable formula, but it feels far more like a solid foundation that a crutch for the story to fall back on. The film certainly goes bigger on the supernatural front, adding to the moving chairs and creaking floorboards with visions of horrific beings and floating bodies, which does bring the film further from reality that its predecessor but certainly adds to the intensity. Like the first, what ultimately makes the film work so well is the master handling of pacing and scares. Unlike most horror fare, The Conjuring 2 never relies on fake scares to keep tension high, making every moment you jump out of your seat genuine and earned. Instead of this, the film spends its quieter moments building character and weaving in emotional moments and even some levity; most horror films wouldn’t even think to break up the horror with a sweet scene of a main character crooning to Elvis Presley, but this one does. All building to an intense climax that is exciting as it is scary, The Conjuring 2 is yet another example of how effective horror can be when handled with skill rather apathy.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga made for a compelling pair of paranormal investigators as Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring, and in the sequel they continue to be so. Wilson manages to pull off the hard balance between being serious and assured yet light and likeable, and Farmiga again brings a lot of power to a character that could have easily been portrayed as a paranoid wreck. Their chemistry as a couple feels genuine and, like with the first, the development of their relationship aligns perfectly with the case at hand in a beautiful way. But also like the first, there is as much focus on the family in the haunted house as there is on the Warrens, and their performances certainly hold their weight when they aren’t around. The real discovery here is Madison Wolfe as the conduit of all these horrors Janet Hodgson, whose performance here mirrors that of Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist and would definitely hold up well against it. Whilst perhaps not as innately creepy as Blair, her genuine struggle with the despair of this situation makes her far more relatable. Frances O’Connor as the lonely matriarch of the family is equally strong, selling the horror of seeing your daughter float and speak in an old man’s voice whilst also being a strong mother trying to keep her family together. The rest of the cast is generally strong, but there are some exceptions. Sterling Jerins as the Warren daughter Judy doesn’t get much to do this time around and is pretty much just set dressing, and Franka Potente as the non-believer scientist only serves to annoy and hold back the plot. Sure, in real life she might be the saner one, but how often is the sceptic in a horror movie right? Yeah, I thought so.
Selling horror is all in the presentation, and The Conjuring 2 ranks amongst the best in doing that through its impeccable visuals and sound. The cinematography is beautifully eerie, making fantastic use of long takes, slow pans, dead space, and even being out-of-focus to build scares and suspense without a single creepy thing actually happening. The production design is equally brilliant in the way it captures to mood of both the 1970s and turns an otherwise bland British council house into something on par with any classic haunted mansion. The sound design and score perfectly accentuate the dread of the whole experience, shocking with loud shrieks but also building an underlying sense of fear through the slightest of creaks and moans. If nothing else, this is a movie that manages to make Christmas carols sound like the creepiest thing ever.
The Conjuring 2 is a more than worthy successor to its predecessor, not only standing up there with some of the best horror sequels of all time but also as one of the best horror movies of the decade. Everything you loved about the first film is as good as it was there if not better, and what it lacks from the original it makes up for with new elements that give the otherwise familiar set-up some new life. Too many horror franchises outstay their welcome fast, but this is a series that still has plenty of life in it and I’d be more than happy to sit through another chilling tale with the Warrens if offered the chance.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10