The Conjuring 2 – 2016
Director James Wan
Screenplay by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Bonnie Aarons
So difficult is it to pull off a movie about a haunting or even more, a possession, that it makes one want to shout from the hills and declare a movie better than it otherwise might be conceived in other genres. James Wan has had a few tries at the concept himself: 5 by my unofficial count if you include Dead Silence. One would think he’s figured out the formula by this point. Actually, he has redefined in the midst of the limelight.
The thing that he does differently in The Conjuring series is that he makes Ed and Lorraine Warren active participants in what might normally be thought of as a passive existence. A key to the success in the series, now through two films and one spinoff, is that we see Ed and Lorraine as collectors of artifacts in each of their cases. These artifacts is that they have a life of their own, carrying an aura that makes their home dangerous and part of the developing story.
Often the gist of a possession story is to make the object of the haunting the focal point to the action. Giving the viewer some time away from the object(s) of the haunting is what allows us time to contemplate what we’ve seen and, ostensibly, do some research with the people offsite. Most people prepare to see some sort of old news print article about an ancient murder on the premises. This is not what we see in with Wan’s series.
Instead, we see side story progression, even more danger and stress. This makes the viewing experience much more tense in it’s unpredictability. What is used sparingly in the first film is expanded upon here, with much more effective results.
After starting out in the Amityville Horror house, we see Lorraine (Farmiga) come face to face with a demon nun (Aarons). This nun would be merely a prologue in another film, but here it plays a pivotal and portentous role.
Meanwhile in England, we have the Hodgson family lead by single mother (O’Connor in a performance better than one would expect for this genre) that is awakening to a horrific existence thanks to the haunting by an old man who previously lived in the house. Most of these events center around young Janet (Wolfe). Wan moves the action forward in a variety of intriguing and genuinely effective ways. There is banging walls and doors, toys that move on their own and an intriguing zoetrope. What Wan does more effectively this time, though, is present 4 kids with mostly different personalities. Wolfe’s Janet is quite believable, while one of them makes me think he’s going to pronounce “God Bless us, Everyone!” at any time.
Back in the states, Lorraine and Ed are twiddling their thumbs. At one point, Ed has trouble sleeping and creates a drawing of the nun that Lorraine saw earlier. He doesn’t know what to make of it, but she knows it’s bad news, that is about to get worse. The next scene featuring this painting stands out as one of the scariest sequences I have seen in a long time.
How the story shapes up versus the “true” version of events is not a one for one equation, but in this case, the story on screen wins the day in a big way. There are many cliches strewn throughout, but it is more than made up for with Wilson, Farmiga, O’Connor and Wolfe’s reaction to the well paced and excellently framed direction. Even when you know what you should be seeing, you still don’t want to see it. Yet you can’t look away.
Wan has found himself in a great spot here. Ghost stories are not often done and even less likely to be memorable in the last 20 years. It would be a source of complaint if he was wallowing in the same territory and going through the motions, like Singer is doing with the X-Men.
What becomes more apparent in Wan’s exercise is that he very obviously loves the genre. PG-13 is normally a death sentence for horror. Not here. This film exceeds the grasp of the first installment and it cements the formula that one established.
One more thing should be observed that occurs to me now that I look back on these two, the Insidious films and Dead Silence. Wan and his co-creators seem to have a reliance on images of tall women with incredibly scary mouth movements. I am not sure the Freudian significance of these images, but they certainly do resonate. Maybe this is the irony of a woman being the womb of the world turned into a horrific source of pain. Then again, it could just be a version of the whore of Babylon. Either way, it works and it keeps us coming back.
(**** out of *****)