James Wan is a modern master of horror. The Conjuring 2 is proof positive of this fact. Sure, you can point to his previous canon, with classic such as Saw, Insidious, and the original Conjuring as an indication of his ability as a fright master, but when you consider the expectations that come with the genre, and the general inability for even the most noted filmmakers to be consistent with their creepshows, the ability to sustain suspense and dread is definitely one of this director’s strongest points. People may prefer not to be terrified, but if they truly want to be unnerved, Wan is the guy.
And the entire Conjuring concept is ripe for his brand of boo. Using the “files” of noted paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played once again here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and his ability behind the lens, Wan is able to explore all sides of the cinematic possibilities–character, narrative, tone, and mood. He could literally keep making these movies as long as there is material in the Warren portfolio to rely on, and if they are all as good as this one, let’s hope his recent forays into big time blockbuster entertainment (Furious 7, the upcoming Aquaman movie) are just creative sidetracks.
We begin our latest tale in Amityville, where the Warren’s research into the Lutz’s claims of a haunting reveal something very foreboding in the duo’s future. Quickly jump to England where a single mom named Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) is convinced that something evil is after her family. Naturally, the entity is targeting her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) and the Warrens are asked by the church to investigate. What they discover is the spirit of an old man who still haunts the house. Worse still, when Janet starts showing signs of demonic possession, the entire case takes a terrifying, potentially tragic turn.
Based on a true story of the Enfield Ghost (with significant liberties being taken, we are told), The Conjuring 2 is what a good old fashioned scary movie should be. It’s fast paced, even with a two hour plus running time, engaging without being overly manipulative, smart without shooting over our heads and iconic, delivering imagery and ideas that are guaranteed to stay locked in your subconscious long after your uneasy sleep lends itself to nightmares. The cast is perfect, the direction measured, and the screenplay (credited to four writers) allows a pair of female characters to avoid the standard victimization to fight for the family.
Wan’s signature slow burn and jump scares remain in full effect, and for those looking for something different here, you won’t really find it. Channeling the past (there are nods to The Exorcist as well as other ‘70s horror cinema) as well as recapturing the look (the production design plops us right back down into 1977) and feel of the times. The Conjuring 2 is effortless. You know you’re in good horror hands the minute the credits roll.
Wan understands what gets under our skin. His style specifically functions as a way of psychologically undermining us, turning our sense of security (we are watching a movie in a theater—or home—setting after all) and having us feel naked and afraid. Every dark corner, every unlit stairwell becomes a possible place of fear. He then adds the human element, and his actors really know how to sell the terror. They not only look the part, but play it with such verve and vigor that you get caught up in it as well.
The story may seem a bit familiar and the jumps obvious at times, but when you consider the number of mainstream horror movies that disappoint, the fact that The Conjuring 2 is so consistent creepy says a lot about its value, and the worth of the man making it all happen.