Film Review – The Conjuring 2
The Conjuring 2
Imagine my disappointment walking out of The Conjuring 2 (2016) realizing how mediocre it is. Perhaps expectations were a little too high. The Conjuring (2013) was a surprise for mainstream horror, telling a spooky tale with effective craftsmanship from director James Wan and strong performances by the lead actors. Realizing that many of the same faces return for the sequel, including Wan, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, along with screenwriter Chad Hayes (accompanied by Carey Hayes, Wan, and David Leslie Johnson), we would expect this to be a strong entry in the franchise. Instead, what we get is a bad case of “sequelitis” – a movie trying to capture old magic by doing the exact same things over again.
What made the first Conjuring work so well was how Wan kept the narrative driving forward. There was constant momentum; the pacing was crisp and clean. Everything fit together – even the twists and turns felt appropriate. This time, the plot is stretched out. At a bloated two hours and thirteen minutes, the story is way too thin to keep us engaged for that long of a runtime. Just as before, paranormal investigators Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) are called upon to check the validity of a recent haunting. This time, they’re summoned to London to help a mother named Peggy (Frances O’Connor) whose family has been tormented by an evil spirit, specifically targeting her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe).
It takes over an hour of screen time for the Warrens to arrive in London. This is where the lack of pacing rears its ugly head. The production prolonged the story as much as they could, stuffing it with unnecessary side plots and repetitive haunting scenes. One of the selling points was that it’s based on a true story. Ed and Lorraine Warren were real investigators, known for taking on the infamous Amityville murder case. The Amityville house has nothing to do with the events happening in London, and yet we’re forced to watch an early scene of them searching it. It’s meant to hone in on the familiarity of that case, but it doesn’t work because how separate it is from the main thread. There’s an effort to tie it in using Lorraine’s visions as a kind of spiritual foreshadowing, but it’s flimsy at best.
James Wan has proven himself to be a competent technical director. Even if he employs the “jump scare” too often, he knows how to craft them to get the biggest reaction out of an audience. He has a keen sense of directing a viewer’s eye, forcing them to look at one section of the screen and then punch in the scare from another section. In the trailer, there’s a moment when Janet is in a room by herself, the camera circling around her. To maintain our focus, crosses are fixed to the wall, and as Janet looks around the room, the crosses start to turn by themselves (a classic horror movie trope). Wan does an excellent job of holding our view of the crosses, even while he inserts a mysterious shadow on the other side of the screen, a perfect place for a scare to leap out. While I’m not a fan of the loud sound effects that come with the jump scares (honestly, it’s not that hard to get someone to jump if you fire off a sudden, ear piercing noise) Wan is adept at staging these scenes.
Which makes it all the more disheartening at how repetitive most of them are. When Peggy, Janet, and their family start experiencing supernatural occurrences in their home, the execution repeats itself constantly. Someone will hear a sound in another room, go to find out what it was by themselves, run into the ghost, scream, wake everybody else up, and then when a light is switched on all will be back to normal. Obviously, this formula is part and parcel of the genre, but when characters fall into the same trap multiple times we stop caring about their safety and start to recognize their stupidity. How often does someone need to walk down a creepy corridor before they learn not to walk down creepy corridors? This cycle is repeated four or five times (at least) with little variation, causing the second act to drop in energy. Eventually, I lost all sense of tension because the scenes had a “broken record” effect. It’s a shame that there wasn’t enough creativity to distinguish each scare. If you were to describe one scare scene, you’re pretty much describing all of them.
Oddly enough, the creepiest sequence happens at the end, when the film shows pictures of the real people involved in the case, as well as an audio recording claimed to be real. Wan did this previously in The Conjuring. Whether these pieces of evidence are doctored or authentic doesn’t really matter, but what’s interesting is how a couple of photos and a few seconds of an audio tape would send more chills down my spine than any of the other scare scenes. This material is ripe for a documentary.
My favorite sequence of the The Conjuring 2 isn’t a scare scene at all. It happens sometime in the second half. In an attempt to calm Peggy’s kids down, Ed takes a guitar and does a full on rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” complete with the lip curl. He doesn’t do a snippet – he does the full song. And if that weren’t enough, he has all the children sing along with him. What’s supposed to be – I guess – a dramatic and heartfelt moment came off hilariously awkward, indicative of the film as a whole.