James Wan’s The Conjuring was a superior haunted house horror which, while I highly enjoyed, had one big problem with; it’s continued insistence that it was a “true story”. Yes, I know Ed and Lorraine Warren were real people, but I do not believe that ghost or its other supernatural shenanigans are, and frankly I would rather enjoy my horror movies if they didn’t try and make me think this. This sequel doesn’t drop the notion, but also doesn’t feel like it pushes it quite so much either, with only a couple of brief title cards at the beginning and end (interestingly, it does refer to its subject matter as being one of the UK’s most notorious hauntings or something similar – though I’ve never heard of it before).
In fact, I did have one huge gripe with this movie that’s completely unrelated, it does, most disappointingly, commit one of cinema’s cardinal sins (well, one of my major pet peeves at least), indulge in on-the-nose, title-matches-what-is-onscreen needle drops. Seriously, an early scene shifts from the US to London and is overlaid by, you guessed it, London Calling by The Clash. Please filmmakers, I beg of you, can we just stop doing this? It’s the laziest of lazy soundtracking.
Aside from that, the only other real issue with The Conjuring 2 is that it allows itself a rather over-generous running time – I can’t remember the last time I saw a horror movie this long. It’s not a huge problem though, the film doesn’t become boring or repetitive, but would still have likely benefitted from some tightening up; for instance a considerable chunk of the movie has passed before the Warrens even arrive at the haunted house.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as the Warrens, making this possibly the only horror franchise to revolve around a married couple. They’re both great in these roles, and their relationship is treated respectfully; it’s not merely a plot device, resulting in some genuinely sweet, emotional moments between the pair. There’s one scene where Lorraine watches as Ed breaks out an acoustic guitar and un-ironically croons an Elvis number to help lift the spirits of some children. It’s not just some cheap lead-in for a scare but a rather delightful interlude, and Wilson does quite an entertaining impersonation. The Warrens are a little changed from last time though as now Lorraine, haunted by visions, is considerably more reluctant to go out ghost hunting again.
The case that eventually draws their attention is a haunting in a suburban house in Enfield, London where a cash-strapped single mother (Frances O’Connor) lives with her four children, one of which appears to become intermittently possessed.
By now, James Wan has really mastered the art of the efficient jump-scare. They can come across as clichéd and lazy in the wrong hands but when handled as confidently as this you’re reminded just how effective they can be. Wan’s able to build up the atmosphere and tension brilliantly to draw out numerous frights even when you know they’re surely about to happen. They’re all fun enough that I can forgive the fact that he indulges in plenty of them in the first half as the family gradually witness just what’s happening in their house.
Another great aspect of the first movie that Wan carries over is that he recognises the audience is in a different situation once the Warrens turn up. They’re not going to be scared by any simple banging and crashing, so once they’re acting as the audience surrogates he’s got a greater challenge ahead to land the big scares. There’s a fantastic unbroken long take in which Ed, in the foreground speaks with the possessed girl who’s never in focus. Immediately as the entity tries to scare Ed he defiantly informs it that it’s going to take a lot more than that to get to him. Wan manages to take things up a notch in the build to the finale too, even if one of the demons they deal with looks a bit too much like mid-nineties-era Marilyn Manson in a nun costume.
It’s interesting that Wan has even decided to make this movie at all, he seemed to be done with the horror genre a while back and had moved on to make one of the biggest movies of all time. The last sequel he made reeked of obligation and he must have been inundated with offers after Furious 7 but instead chose to come back to The Conjuring. This ultimately isn’t quite as good as the original, but it’s a solid follow-up with an unusually human focus, that’s handled well enough to suggest that James Wan might well have a horror masterpiece in him at some point in the near future.