“This is the rare sequel”
Every time I’m about to confidently proclaim the supernatural horror genre is dead a film like The Conjuring 2 comes around and shuts me up like a sudden bang or thump on the wall of a silent house. This is a familiar but beautifully done film that rightfully and sensibly places its emphasis on unsettling, surmounting dread while never losing sight of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s strong acting and romantic chemistry.
Director James Wan (also the director of the Insidious franchise) even sticks to his guns for the sequel to his original project, which made a lot of people a lot of money back in 2013, by keeping the focus on astute framing, slowburn tension, unsettling vibes, and details rather than immediate payoffs or jump scares. He employs atmosphere in a way that reminds us what is missing in films like this year’s horrific miscalculation The Darkness and the most recent Paranormal Activity sequels, and utilizes jump-cuts in a way that might even make Jean-Luc Godard softly grin. The art and craft of The Conjuring is very much present here, as well as external elements of romance and drama we weren’t so lucky to have with the first installment.
The film takes place in 1977 and refocuses on the paranormal investigator team of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who travel to London, England where single-mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Conner) believes her house is victim to paranormal activity. Repeated noises and strange circumstances such as bookshelves scooting across the room and beds violently rumbling have kept Peggy’s daughters Janet (Madison Wolfe) and Margaret (Lauren Esposito) awake for days, and events only worsen when Janet begins displaying evidence of demonic possession. During a TV interview with Ed, Lorraine, Janet, and Margaret, Janet begins to lose control of her body before being overtaken by a voice and spirit claiming to be Bill Wilkins, a 72-year-old man who died of a brain hemorrhage in the same home the Hodgson’s are currently living in right now.
While Ed and Lorraine work to not only free the spirits and the paranormalities from the home, they have also achieved celebrity status after helping the Perron family (the family in the previous The Conjuring, if you can remember back that far) and have come under some scrutiny since then. Working closely with the church, the couple must also assure that the families they are helping are not using a hoax to propel their own family to overnight stardom. This causes another complication for an already stressful and downright frightening career, especially as Lorraine begins experiencing her own troubling visions.
Wan and his trio of cowriters (Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson, who wrote Orphan) work to illustrate the romance and bond that keeps Ed and Lorraine together, especially after many years of more-or-less being the world’s ghostbusters. Consider the tender scene where Ed explains to the children how he first began to believe ghosts; he asks if they remember when they used to think something hid under their bed at night before saying that something actually did live under his bed as a kid. He remembers how scared he was when he was thrown to the ground by a demon, and if it weren’t for his father just telling him to “man up” and go back in the room, he wouldn’t have let the power of God and catechism come into his life to protect and guide him. He then says he went on to find the only person who’d believe him and that was Lorraine. So he married her.
The romantic qualities of The Conjuring 2 may be subtle, but they are present in a slew of atmospheric tension, and the way they are woven into a screenplay and narrative that tries to make you have a difficult time sleeping tonight works beautifully and accentuates Wan’s craft. This is the rare sequel that is on the same playing field as its predecessor; the kind that has its cake, eats it too, and bakes another one to enjoy as well.