Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

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In 2013 James Wan scared the hell out of millions of people and turned the horror genre on its head by delivering The Conjuring, a superb, terrifying film chronicling a purportedly real life case of haunting and possession investigated by the husband and wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Now we have The Conjuring 2, which picks up several months after the Warrens concluded their involvement in the Perron case (the basis for the original film).  As the new film opens, Ed and Lorraine (again portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who still share an electric chemistry which provides the film with its emotional core) are investigating the Amityville haunting, the case that catapulted them into the spotlight. During this sequence (which, unlike the original film, actually earns this sequel its R rating), Lorraine has an encounter with something evil, leaving her afraid for the safety of her husband.

While this is going on, we’re introduced to Peggy Hodgson and her four children, who live in a run down council house in Enfield, North London.  A series of terrifying paranormal occurrences (centered around daughter Janet) besieges the family, increasing in frequency and ferocity. These events are witnessed by multiple people and when even the police realize they are unable to provide any substantial help, Peggy turns to the church. News travels across the ocean to America, where the Catholic church again turns to the Warrens for assistance.

conj2frame2Despite Lorraine’s objections, Ed and Lorraine make the trip to London and investigate the events, which would go on to achieve global fame as the Enfield Poltergeist case – one of the most documented paranormal incidents in history.

The cast is superb, with Frances O’ Connor as Peggy Hodges and Madison Wolfe as young Janet being the two newcomers ably holding their own with Wilson and Farmiga. Simon McBurney is also on hand in an effective turn as psychical investigator Maurice Gross, who was one of the first to believe the Hodgsons claims.

Writers Cary and Chad Hayes (along with David Leslie Johnson) deliver a screenplay equal parts smart, scary and involving, taking time to develop these characters as human beings, establishing a connection between them and the audience before unleashing all manner of horrors on both families.

And there is indeed horror. James Wan returns behind the camera to deliver a knockout sequel, a film every bit as terrifying as its predecessor. If some of the scares in The Conjuring 2 seem familiar at times, the execution is anything but. Wan understands better than anyone working today how to use darkness, sound and our instinctive fear of the unknown to weave sequences that will have audiences jumping out of their skin or gripping their armrest with white knuckles.  Moreover, there are entirely original moments of legitimate genius throughout, evoking the best moments of Carpenter and Craven, such as a skin crawling, hair raising conversation Ed is forced to have with the ghastly specter harassing the family with his back turned.

However, that isn’t where the film succeeds. All of those attributes would be meaningless if we didn’t care about the characters. On that score, The Conjuring 2 isn’t just a terrific sequel and a great horror film, it’s one of the best genre entries I have ever seen.

conj1frameAs was the case in the original, these characters are fleshed out. They have substance and flaws, fears and hopes and are not mere horror movie cliches.  The scorn and derision Ed and Lorraine were frequently subjected to at the hands of skeptics isn’t glossed over here (Ed loses his temper on live television at one point), neither is the fact that certain reports emerged from the Enfield case indicating young Janet Hodgson was in fact faking at least some of the phenomena.  These are real people and, as such, their fate matters. I’ve seen a lot of films that put everything into scaring the audience only to have the human quality suffer, but few as diligent about demonstrating the behind the scenes drama inherent in an experience like this as the Conjuring films. Some of the best moments in the sequel are the quieter ones, such as a truly moving and gentle scene where Ed entertains the Hodgson family by strumming a guitar and crooning a respectable rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” It’s a warm, generous moment, representative of this film’s soul.

conj2frame3Going into this movie, I was aware that many liberties had been taken with the case records and that, for the most part, this is a fictionalized Hollywood representation of the real story. That doesn’t matter. This could be made up whole cloth (and there are certainly a number of people who think that’s exactly what this story is) and it doesn’t make a difference. Whether its complete fiction or based on a true story as the titles claim, The Conjuring 2 is a surprisingly effective human drama wrapped inside of an absolutely frightening horror thriller.  The Hodgsons are sympathetic and the Warrens continue to be a likable couple you’ll end up cheering for.

Like the first film, this is one the few movies determined to convey the ideal that love, courage and faith are still the most powerful tools we possess for combating evil in any form. At a time when the news is filled with hideous stories capable of draining people of hope, that’s a message we need to hear. It just so happens it’s been delivered in the form of one of the best horror sequels I’ve ever seen.

***** out of ***** stars. This is the rare sequel that’s every bit as good as the original.

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