Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2
Directed by: James Wan.
Written by: Carey Hayes & Chad Hayes & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson.
Starring: Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren), Vera Farmiga (Lorraine Warren), Madison Wolfe (Janet Hodgson), Frances O'Connor (Peggy Hodgson), Lauren Esposito (Margaret Hodgson), Benjamin Haigh (Billy Hodgson), Patrick McAuley (Johnny Hodgson), Simon McBurney (Maurice Grosse), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Peggy Nottingham), Simon Delaney (Vic Nottingham), Franka Potente (Anita Gregory), Bob Adrian (Bill Wilkins).
There is not a finer director of mainstream horror films today than James Wan. As a horror filmmaker, Wan has been smart – he knows the traditional horror beats better than anyone, and is more than capable of delivering them – but he’s just as skilled as misdirection, setting something up with one hand, and then delivering something unexpected with the other. And, I think most important of all, he isn’t afraid of quiet moments where nothing much happens – where there’s no thudding or panting or moaning on the soundtrack, nothing popping out of the shadows every few seconds. Watching a Wan horror film is to constantly be on edge, as he so gradually ratchets things up, you barely notice just how tense you’ve become.
All of that is true even in a movie like The Conjuring 2 – the sequel to the 2013 smash hit, which was also the best mainstream American haunted house movie in a generation. A sequel was, of course, inevitable – and even though Wan has moved to franchise filmmaker with last year’s Furious 7 and the upcoming Aquaman – I’m glad he came back to direct the sequel. In many ways, The Conjuring 2 is a mere exercise in style – one that moves with efficiency, utilizing some of the same tricks that worked so amazingly well the first time out, to inevitably lesser results in the sequel. This is not a mere repeat of the first film though – the setting is different – a low income area in London instead of a dilapidated Rhode Island farmhouse, the demon is a different beast altogether, and what happens, in specific, is not merely a repeat of the first film. But Wan’s tricks are largely the same, and even if they remain creepily effective this time around, there is never a sequence as terrifying as the “handclap” sequence in the original, and the finale is a little too standard horror movie fare for me to be scared by it. The scariest moments in The Conjuring are not when the demon shows its face – although, to be fair, it is a truly creepy demon face (and continues Wan’s talent for devising faces that will haunt your dreams for years, like Saw’s creepy puppet and the face of the demon in Insidious), but in the quieter moments. It probably didn’t help that, unlike the “true life” case in the original film, I was actually familiar with the “true life” story of The Conjuring 2 – which, sorry, has pretty much conclusively been proved false – although I appreciate how the movie played even with the fact that the it had been proven false, by acknowledging it, and then moving on.
One of the reasons why two Conjuring films works so well is the performances by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, who take their roles very seriously. They build a chemistry together, so they have a believable marriage together – the kind where they simply look at each other, and know what they are thinking and feeling – and have absolute trust in each other. They are also, strangely enough, portray their Catholic faith in one of the most positive ways I can recall in any movie – it’s the bedrock of everything they do, and the film takes it seriously as well. The performances are sincere, so even if I don’t actually believe in any of the stuff they’re spouting, for a couple of hours, in their company, I do. They are aided in The Conjuring 2 by several strong supporting performances – and if nothing quite reaches the level of Lily Taylor’s work in the original. Sally Hawkins, normally so sunny and cheerful, is wonderful as the distraught mother here, trying in vain to protect her children from something she doesn’t understand. Madison Wolfe is good, hitting notes we usually do not see in the clich├ęd role of “child possessed by a demon”.
The Conjuring 2 has some problems with it, sure. At 135 minutes, the film is far too long (the runtime of the original, 112 is about right for this type of movie. However, since it’s the quieter moments, where nothing much is seemingly happening, that are most effective – and well could have been the things cuts, so perhaps it’s just as well it is too long. The Conjuring 2 isn’t as good as the first film – doing that in a horror sequel is nearly impossible, but it comes closer than most horror films do. This is the genre where Wan is a modern master, and even if in The Conjuring 2, he’s repeating some tricks, well, they’re good tricks. And they work.

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