Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: The Conjuring 2

Six years after the events at the Perron family's farmhouse, Ed and Lorraine Warren conduct a seance at the scene of the Amityville Horror. During the seance, Lorraine is confronted with a disturbing vision she has not seen since the Perron farm incident and begins to question whether or not her and Ed should stay in the field of paranormal investigation. Meanwhile, in Enfield, England, a powerful force is oppressing a low-income family. Charged by the church with investigating the disturbances, Ed and Lorraine head back into the field to deal with The Enfield Poltergeist, one of the most documented supernatural occurrences in modern history.
The Conjuring 2 is a follow-up to 2013's horror masterpiece, The Conjuring. The Conjuring was my favorite film of 2013 for many reasons. James Wan directing the film with a confident and assured hand making his shots linger for just a little TOO long to feel comfortable and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga bring a quiet power to The Warrens. The whole thing is a masterclass of horror filmmaking and is likely to not be topped for decades. Needless to say, a lot of weight rested on everyone's shoulders as they dusted off The Warrens' story for a new chapter.

The good news is, The Conjuring 2 works a lot of the time. The confidence that enveloped the first film is not only present, but built upon, leading to some downright risky filmmaking by James Wan. In a Q and A following the screening I attended, he revealed just how much of his long tracking shots were unaltered by digital trickery and done in camera. He also made it clear that if he were to revisit the Warrens' achievements it was necessary not just to escalate, but to really spend time with them and get to know every facet of their lives outside of the spooky times happenings.

Much like the first film, the characters are all fully realized and wonderful. Even a couple of characters I wasn't too jazzed about brought me around by the time the credits rolled. At the center of all of it, lie Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. They're both powerhouse character actors and they imbue the Warrens with an earnestness lacking from almost every other horror film protagonists of the modern era. Newcomer Madison Wolfe proves that she absolutely should be sharing the screen with the likes of Wilson and Farmiga and plays a complex little girl who is easy to sympathize with. She's a victim of the oppression and her socioeconomic status and plays both to heartbreaking effect. The best thing Wan does is make you root for the characters. It makes the scares so much more effective when you actually care about what is going to happen to the people involved.

Like I said earlier, almost all of The Conjuring 2 works. The movie is a little slower than its first iteration and its runtime shows a little more. There could have been some fat trimmed, but the results likely would have been negligible. Most of what doesn't work about The Conjuring 2 lie in some of the scares. Wan amps the tension up to 11 in this movie and the scares are overwhelmingly relentless. Again, that simple fact works like gangbusters and it lends itself to an overall raise in stakes that feels organic and not just present "because sequel." However, there are so many setpieces in the movie that by the law of averages, some of the payoffs are downright silly. An incredible sequence involving Lorraine following an unknown presence through the halls of her house got my palms sweaty for its duration and decided to end on a scare that looked incredibly stupid. The Enfield spirit uses a zoetrope featuring "The Crooked Man (you know, the one who walked a crooked mile)" to spook the youngest Hoggson child, but the character's design looks far too much like a cross between The Babadook and Slenderman and the CGI used to create him sticks out like a sore thumb in Wan's land of practical effects wonders.

While the film doesn't quite hit the heights of the original, it is an incredibly fun time at the movies. The stakes are raised and the scares are fast and furious (get it?). The Conjuring 2 is a labor of love from all involved and the care that went into crafting a good sequel is appreciated by the audience. James Wan has been a horror film tastemaker for the better part of a decade now and I hope that doesn't go away anytime soon. He knows what he's doing and how to scare an audience in continually inventive ways, but, his most admirable quality is his optimism. For all the desperation and scares permeating The Conjuring 2, it's the story of a couple who are truly in love with each other and truly on the side of doing right for those who can't do right by themselves. It's a great thing to see in a genre that can so easily sneer and revel in darkness and cynicism. 

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