In case you haven’t realized, there seems to be a curse with horror sequels. There are always exceptions to the rule of course, but based on evidence, if a horror film is a financial success (and by this, meaning making $5-10 million after breaking even), the studio will greenlight a sequel. The sequel will typically be made by a different creative team, with a relatively smaller budget and quicker turnaround time. All of that would usually end in disaster.
All of this to say that somehow The Conjuring 2 was able to take it’s time and keep the creative team attached is a blessing because not only is this film legitimately terrifying, it’s also one of my favourite horror sequels (as I’ve explained, the competition is minimal but Evil Dead II is at the top, so that’s the spectrum I’m working within).
Thankfully, The Conjuring 2 has both the writers Chad and Carey Hayes returning and the star of the film, director James Wan as well. Before diving into the movie, I need to bring up Wan’s direction in this film (or in general for that matter), he is brilliant. Since his debut feature Saw, he has a clear vision and style for each of his films. The way the camera moves in Saw is not how it works in The Conjuring 2. While you may argue that’s due to the bookends of his career (as of writing this), compare Insidious: Chapter 2 and The Conjuring (which both were released in 2013) and they are both different. Within the Conjuring franchise (which, sadly it is due to spin-offs (yes, spin-off’s, but I’ll get to that) helps qualify it as a franchise) Wan’s camera always glides across the room, tracking and following someone. While I’m almost angry at how swift and wonderful the movement of the camera is, it never comes off as if Wan was attempting to show off, even though he has every right to.
Within these sequences, Wan builds the tension and ratchets it up to 11. Typically, horror films have a routine. Cold open with a death, title card, some introduction to the characters, and then rotating between a scare and down time repeatedly. However, there were a solid 15 minutes here where it was scare, after scare, after scare. In my head, I was begging for the sun to rise so I could breathe, but the night continued. Part of the reason why the film is so effective with its scares are because of the characters. As an audience member, we are here watching the second film meaning we already bought into the world that they’ve created for us, they don’t need to sell us anything again. So instead, we have Wan and the Hayes brothers giving us characters to be attached to, and there are two scenes that happen to be very different that show that. There’s a moment in which Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) sings a song to the family, and while in a briefer film, we may have only caught a glimpse of a verse and a chorus if we’re lucky, Wan treats us to the whole song. We get to see exactly who Ed is, how he is in terms of helping people, and also how much he loves his wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). Compare that to when Janet (played incredibly well by newcomer Madison Wolfe) and her family are scared, you find yourself on their side, being scared as well. And speaking of being scared, I didn’t stop.
I’ve spent the last day or so thinking about this film and its great sequences and moments in the film (won’t spoil them, even though the trailers have) and even visualizing them, I’ve found myself getting creeped out again. That’s the effectiveness of this film. The downside of thinking about the film so much is I’ve noticed a few more gripes since the movie ended. One is there’s a bit of an abrupt ending, it feels a bit too sudden in comparison to the build-up. There’s a sequence that both work and also really doesn’t work due to use of CGI (it works because it’s the opposite of what was expected, and doesn’t because the CGI doesn’t look good).* There’s a character moment I had expected from one of Janet’s brothers, but nothing came about it even though the groundwork for it had already been laid.
Even though I had issues with the film, I still extremely enjoyed it. There’s a sense of real pride and effort for this film. There was legitimate care that went into making this film, and that’s not common within the film industry, yet alone the horror genre. Wan came back to prove he’s one of the best horror director’s working right now, but the craft that went into making this movie is also a statement that he’s an incredible filmmaker outside of genre work (look at Death Sentence and Furious 7 for proof).
I love the first film and James Wan, so I had high expectations. But as I’ve said, horror sequels are rarely that good, even within his filmography Insidious: Chapter 2 is weaker than Insidious, but The Conjuring 2 was still one of my most anticipated films of the year, and it delivered.
The CGI sequence was revolving The Crooked Man. The transformation worked because I wasn’t expecting it, but once it stood (really) tall, it just ended up looking cheap and almost a rip-off of The Babadook. One of the final moments of the film has Ed putting the zoetrope on a shelf with Annabelle in the back of the shot, between this and some reports are pointing towards The Crooked Man being another spin-off. If that happens, I’ll stick with just the main series and not bother with the spin-off’s as I have no interest in seeing Annabelle.