While The Conjuring 2 isn't as innovative a horror film throwback as its predecessor, it's an excellent ghost story in its own right.
The Conjuring 2 picks up with paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) in 1976, as the pair conduct their famous study of the "Amityville Horror" case - in which the Lutz family claimed they were terrorized by the same demonic presence that drove their home's previous owner to murder his family. During a seance at the old Lutz home, Lorraine had a horrifying encounter with a mysterious demon that prompts her to tell Ed they need to stop their investigations - before something terrible happens to them. Coupled with the Warrens' increased fame, since they helped the Perron family, that has only made the couple a popular target for skeptics seeking to debunk their work, Ed agrees with Lorraine to stick with a quieter life (teaching, giving guest lectures), instead.
However, in 1977, the Warrens are approached by the Catholic Church to investigate a highly-publicized case (one referred to by the general public as "England's Amityville") in the London Borough of Enfield. There, the Warrens meet Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) - a working-class single mother who, along with her children and in particular her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), is seemingly being terrorized by a malevolent spirit in her home. Is this supposed supernatural event just a hoax, as many suspect it to be... or have Ed and Lorraine now inadvertently made themselves a new target for a demonic being that is attempting to possess Janet and force her to commit the ultimate sin?
The followup to Saw and Insidious director James Wan's hit 2013 horror film, The Conjuring 2 is another chilling tale of the supernatural featuring fictionalized versions of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Where Insidious: Chapter 2 - the only previous occasion where Wan directed a sequel to his own hit horror film - aspired to explore its predecessor's mythology only to (arguably) over-complicate it and diminish its mystique, at the same time sacrificing the quality of its human story core, The Conjuring 2 successfully expands upon dangling plot threads from its predecessor at the same time that it explores compelling new material and delivers more than its fair share of good scares. While The Conjuring 2 isn't as innovative a horror film throwback as its predecessor, it's an excellent ghost story in its own right.
The Conjuring 2's narrative structure resembles that of its predecessor, complete with a prologue based around one of the Warren's investigations prior to the main events of the film - something that doesn't come as a surprise, given that Conjuring co-writers Chad and Carey Hayes also co-penned the sequel. In some ways, though, the Conjuring 2's screenplay (also co-written by Wan and Orphan screenwriter David Leslie Johnson) weaves a tighter narrative web than its predecessor, as events in the Amityville-set opening not only connect to those that later transpire in Enfield, but set up the larger themes of the film at the same time. The Conjuring 2 continues Ed and Lorraine's love story from the first installment too, allowing the sequel to serve as a satisfying bookend to the original movie's portrayal of the Warrens and their relationship (regardless of whether or not their story is eventually continued onscreen with The Conjuring 3).
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are once again strong in their respective roles as the open-minded, yet logical, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren - as the pair's easy-going screen chemistry further serves the storyline (especially the Warrens' deep connection with one another in the film). Farmiga's performance is of particular importance here, since the Conjuring sequel is more Lorraine's story than Ed's - not only in the sense that Lorraine's communications and interactions with demons and the non-living drives much of the plot, but also on a thematic level. The Conjuring 2 examines the idea that the Hodgsons are in danger as much because no one in a position of authority believes their claims as anything else, making the story all the more personal for Lorraine (given her own experiences in facing skepticism about her clairvoyant abilities) and creating an interesting subtext about under-privileged people (such as abuse victims) who often face challenges to their credibility. That subtext is strengthened by Ed's arc in the film, as he struggles to be the middle-ground between the believers and non-believers who are investigating the events in Enfield.
The Conjuring 2's aesthetic lies somewhere between two extremes: the first Conjuring's visually-grounded approach to portraying a world where the supernatural exists and the comparatively stylized way the Insidious films bring their various monsters to life in the everyday world (and beyond). Several sequences in The Conjuring 2 take place during someone's dream, a vision, or an alternate plane of reality, so it's fitting that these scenes feel the most Insidious-like (in a good way) - as Wan and his director of photography Dom Burgess (Source Code) use a variety of sophisticated filming techniques (extended takes, dramatic camera movement) to set the mood, resulting in Wan's most polished and well-crafted movie to date. The real-world setting of Enfield is equally visually rich and atmospheric as the movie's dream/vision sequences, thanks to its dreary wintertime color palette and the historical production design - creating a sense of time and place that feels lifted from not only some of the classic 1970s horror films that Conjuring 2 pays homage to (The Exorcist), but also recent homages to that same era in horror filmmaking (The Babadook).
As with Wan's past horror films, The Conjuring 2 also serves up effective jump-scare moments and maintains a steady, but growing, tension throughout its three-act narrative - one that flows along at a surprisingly brisk pace, considering that this is easily the director's longest movie to date. However, also similar to the original Conjuring, this sequel is more of an unnerving experience in the moment and doesn't explore the kind of disturbing concepts that will linger with moviegoers long after the film is over. In other words: however one feels about Wan's approach to horror filmmaking in general, The Conjuring 2 isn't enough of a mold-breaker to change their mind about the director's work. For these reasons, certain filmgoers will get more mileage from The Conjuring 2 in the scares department than others.
Opinions about how scary (or not scary) The Conjuring 2 is may vary, but like Wan's previous movies (even his non-horror work, such as Furious 7) the film succeeds at weaving a meaningful human story around its thrills - one further elevated by the performances of the ensemble cast. Well-respected character actors Frances O'Connor (The Missing) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (Orphan Black) bring additional authenticity to their roles as Peggy Hodgson and her kindly neighbor, Mrs. Nottingham, as does Simon Delaney (Delivery Man) as Mr. Nottingham. Simon McBurney (The Theory of Everything) does equally solid work as Maurice Grosse, a paranormal investigator who works alongside the Warrens on the Hodgson case for reasons both professional and personal. Lastly, as was the case with The Conjuring, the child actors for the sequel are sympathetic and believable in their roles as the Hodgson children - with Madison Wolfe (True Detective) getting the biggest role as the terrorized young Janet Hodgson.
Overall, The Conjuring 2 serves as evidence that Wan's time away from the horror genre has made him a better filmmaker - and that Wan should continue to grow as a storyteller, as he explores different genres in his upcoming movies (see Aquaman). There's a conclusiveness to both the narrative of (and Wan's filmmaking approach on) the Conjuring sequel that suggests this movie is meant to serve as his swan-song on the franchise as director, regardless of whether or not the series continues with additional direct sequels (so not counting the spinoff sequel, Annabelle 2, set to arrive next year). If so, then The Conjuring 2 is a strong note for Wan to go out on - one that provides the spooky change of pace from other summer movie season offerings that certain filmgoers have been waiting for.
The Conjuring 2 is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 134 minutes long and is Rated R for terror and horror violence.
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