Film Review: The Conjuring 2 (MA15+) (2016) (USA)

Our own Australian director James Wan has made quite a name for himself in the horror genre. Alongside some mild detours like the revenge-film Death Sentence and the ventriloquist horror Dead Silence, he started off the Saw franchise – which spawned SEVEN films. Next came the Insidious franchise – which spawned another FOUR films.

Then all of a sudden, Wan was called into another franchise, The Fast and the Furious. Showing that he can handle action capably as well as horror, especially with a vast budget and plentiful production problems, it is no wonder that he has been hired to helm the Aquaman film. But as much as enjoyable as the films mentioned above are, it is the Conjuring films where he has the most passion and enthusiasm.

The Conjuring was a stellar horror film with great performances and old-fashioned scares that made it a big step forward for the Hollywood system that was drowned in a pool of mediocrity and now we have the much-awaited sequel, The Conjuring 2.

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Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren, two Ghostbusters paranormal investigators who are currently overwhelmed by the public eye after investigating the case of Amityville (which is the inspiration for the Amityville Horror films) and another hidden entity that Lorraine keeps to her chest. Considering taking an indefinite leave to take some time for themselves, they hear about a case in London where a family of five (consisting of Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Patrick McAuley and Benjamin Haigh) are being haunted by two seemingly paranormal entities. The investigators decide to observe and report about the case but they end up more than they bargained for and get embroiled into a spiral of destructive forces and even skepticism from some of the townspeople to the point that it could be potentially life-threatening.

Most horror sequels are inferior to the originals due to the lack of surprise and ingenuity; and The Conjuring 2 is no exception. All the horror clichés and tropes, from ouija boards to paranormal investigation activities to demonic recordings and dark corners are here in their full glory. However, I am glad to say that The Conjuring 2 succeeds in spite of all of those things due to the sheer commitment of the cast and crew.

Director James Wan still manages to wring genuine fear out of these tropes and even come up with new ways for the franchise to scare the audience. For example, a monstrous entity, that could only be borne and inspired from the imagination of children called The Crooked Man. Kept shrouded in darkness for most of the running time, it is a fantastic creation that is reminiscent of the titular villain in The Babadook.

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Although the film never has a moment like the clapping scene in the first Conjuring, it’s almost as if Wan knew that he couldn’t scare the audience by building tension a second time, so he decided to become more relentless and in-your-face with his setpieces, particularly in the final act.  While it would be understandable if one would see that approach to be tedious, it never becomes so and that is thanks to the talented cast.

Patrick Wilson is still great and charismatic in the nice every-man role of Ed Warren that could’ve easily become annoyingly stereotypical but how can you resist a man who intentionally does a bad Elvis impression to cheer up a family? You just can’t. Certainly not Vera Farmiga, who still exhibits authority and tenderness so well, that she might as well do it in her sleep. The two share a wonderful and touching chemistry that grounds the film so well, that the film’s climax becomes more than just a fun and thrilling experience.

The supporting cast are all fine in their roles, with Simon McBurney playing the faithful paranormal fanatic well; Franka Potente having fun in her limited screen-time as the skeptic and Frances O’Connor capably handling the dramatic and horror portions well as the frightened mother, although her accent can be a bit laughable at times.

All this said, the standout of the cast, as well as the film is Madison Wolfe as Janet. Her character is the main victim of not just the paranormal events, but her life outside it as well, particularly at school and Wolfe handles all of those aspects with ease. How someone that can look so sweet can be so terrifying beyond belief? Madison Wolfe handily answers that question with flying colors.

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As much as I can praise the movie, there are some small things that took me out of the movie. As much as the cast work really hard to make us care about their characters, James Wan does tend to make those emotional moments cloying at times, particularly with the music choices. It comes off as unsubtle, cheesy and sometimes unintentionally amusing.

Another issue I had was how the story tries to thematically bring together the story arc of the Warrens with the plot of the Enfield Poltergeist. Although I understand its intent to beef up the presence of the Warrens, it comes off a bit messy and convoluted. The movie is bit too long for a story like this but, to be honest, it would be really hard to know what to cut out.

Overall, The Conjuring 2 is a great sequel that although it doesn’t reach the heights of the original, it makes up for it in its relentless pace, the committed cast and James Wan‘s directorial eye and, of course, a standout performance in Madison Wolfe. She is going to go places and the same can be said for this franchise. Bravo.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Conjuring 2 is out in cinemas this week.