Director James Wan made his mark on modern horror with the original ‘Saw’ and haunted house / possession thriller, ‘Insidious,’ but with his 1970s-set, rousingly terrifying ‘The Conjuring’ released in 2013, he cemented his status as a premier craftsman of the macabre. Based on the experiences of real-life couple and original cultural ghost-hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, the film effectively introduced them via their involvement with a case that rocked a desperate family living in a haunted farmhouse. As evident based on their locked room of haunted artifacts, the Warrens’ history could create plenty of material to sustain a franchise, so Wan is back to present another harrowing case for an audience to jump, scream, and revel at the layer of fright-craft on display in the sequel, ‘The Conjuring 2.’
As with the original movie’s possessed doll Annabelle, the action opens on a pre-credits case, but this time it is quickly apparent (via a slick pull back shot through a very familiarly shaped window) that the audience is getting a taste of the Warrens’ involvement in the famed (and oft-adapted) Amityville haunting. Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine is particularly affected by the experience, convinced the house has enabled her to tap into a sinister force. At the same time as the Warrens navigate the possibility of hanging up their crucifixes (the religious couple have been sanctioned by the Catholic Church to confirm or debunk the presence of legitimate supernatural phenomena), the audience is introduced to another desperate (and fractured) family struggling to make ends meet across the pond in London, England. Huge shocks and scares abound on both fronts as the Hodgson family (particularly middle daughter Janet, played convincingly by young actress Madison Wolfe) deals with peculiar poltergeist activity, even witnessed by authorities, and the Warrens deal with the fallout from Lorrain’s visions (in particular a nasty, and decidedly freaky entity in the guise of a demonic nun).
Just like the original film, Wan is able to keep the viewer enthralled and in a heightened sense of awareness of everything in the frame. If anything, his skills are even more honed in this sequel, setting up shots where the character on screen is off-center, leaving the viewer to contemplate what might be hiding in other areas of the frame, only to have nothing transpire, the scare to come from somewhere else entirely, or in some cases from the area being surveyed. This skillful manipulation through sight and sound is paramount to effective horror – done less skillfully it can come across as hokey and ineffective, but under Wan’s able hand maintains a constant state of dread and panic.
A horror story is only as strong as its’ protagonists whom in the case of this series’ Warren couple (Patrick Wilson plays the strong-willed Ed) are a compelling draw. The two leads embody this loving couple, bound by their unique experiences and belief that they were put on the earth to help those in legitimately in need. This overriding drive, even in the face of possible death, is convincingly played by these two solid actors, elevating this material, along with the obvious skill of their director, well above the usual by-the-numbers plot. Quite frankly this sequel is repetitive in structure as compared to the first film and others of its’ ilk, but under the confident guidance of the filmmaker and his two stars, fans of all things that go bump in the night will continue to be thrilled by their stories . . .
Directed By: James Wan
Written By: Carey & Chad Hayes, James Wan, and David Johnson
Running Time: 134 min.
* * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- B