Movie Review: “The Conjuring 2” – Scary Good

Written by Jeremiah Greville June 13, 2016

Madison Wolfe in The Conjuring 2It’s rare to find a good horror movie, but over the past couple of years, we’ve had several. It was once rare to find a really good sequel, but in the past couple of years—when almost everything is a sequel—we’ve been getting a shocking number of good ones too. So despite all of our collective fears of the contrary, it made sense that there would one day be a good horror sequel in theatres. Well, fear or fear not, The Conjuring 2 is that damned-to-hell good horror sequel we’ve all been waiting for.

The Conjuring 2 is the third movie in director and producer James Wan’s horror series about Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life paranormal investigators played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. It follows 2013’s well-received The Conjuring, as well as the 2014 prequel film, Annabelle, directed by John R. Leonetti. Each film in the series stands alone, not requiring the viewer to have any previous knowledge of the other films, making this movie both a great introduction to Wan’s version of the Warrens, as well as wonderful way to skip Annabelle entirely.

Seriously, skip it. It’s terrible.

This time around, the Warrens are forced to travel to London, where a single mother, Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Conner), and her four children are dealing with supernatural disturbances centred around their youngest daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe). The movie spends most of its first act introducing the Warrens and the Hodgsons separately, and allowing the audience a glimpse into both family units and the relationships that will later define their struggles with the demonic. Wilson and Farmiga, reprising their roles, have an easy, old-fashioned chemistry that provides the emotional bedrock of the film. O’Conner and Wolfe are both exceptional playing a mother and daughter gripped by evil, but make no mistake, this Wilson and Farmiga’s movie.

“This one. This one still haunts me.”

What makes a great horror film isn’t the gore or the imagery, but the dread and the tension, whether it’s a supernatural story of ghostly possession, or a sex-fuelled slasher romp. Jump scares in particular succeed in this same way: in the tension when the screen goes quiet before the scare, and in the resolution of what happens after. Jump scares are easy, but often rob a movie of tension when not used to bolster the main conflict or move the story forward. Wan’s great strength as a horror movie filmmaker is in allowing that tension to build and flow organically, balancing each new terror and subsequent jump scare with a moment for the audience to regroup and build that tension once more. These quiet moments aren’t wasted either, as brief flashes of genuine comedy and happiness are allowed to thrive, providing contrast for the scarier scenes. Patrick Wilson singing a loving spot-on Elvis tribute shouldn’t work in a horror movie, but it’s one of this film’s best sequences.

Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring 2

The film falters, however, in some of its script and cinematography choices. Naturalistic lighting is used for several of the night scenes throughout the first half hour of the film, robbing much of this part of the movie of the initial slow-burn tension it needs to set up the dramatic conflict and prime the audience for later chills. You need to see a shape in the darkness to be terrified of it. However, when the movie gets going this approach is thankfully abandoned for more traditional lighting, allowing Wan to focus on the rhythm of alternating tense encounters and quiet character moments. Use of digital splicing also allows for several ‘one-take’ shots in the same vein as the original The Conjuring, but overuse of the technique quickly leads to fatigue. With regard to the script, there are a few times when you’re battered across the head with the saccharine sweetness of the ‘good’ characters, and even a few completely terrible lines near the end of the film that drive this point home. However, for the most part, shining a light on his main characters’ simple goodness allows Wan and his writers to further heighten the perceived evil of their supernatural antagonist. Thankfully, despite the heroes being deeply religious, the movie neither offends theists by omission of spiritual elements, nor alienates atheists through moralizing sanctimony. Whether or not you believe in angels and demons, Wan will have you rooting for his heroes regardless.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 is a surprisingly good movie, living up to its predecessor, and often surpassing it. Wan balances the film throughout, from day to night, from comedy to terror, and from good to evil, allowing the audience to feel each new scare, and each new reprieve, to their fullest effect. For fans of the genre, this is the film we’ve all been waiting for. Horror sequels can finally be good. And no, whatever horror sequel you’re currently thinking of doesn’t count. No, it doesn’t. No–hush now, and go see The Conjuring 2.

My Rating: 8/10

Theatrical Poster for The Conjuring 2

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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