The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Back in 2013, The Conjuring premiered in theatres around the world with moderate expectations but quickly gained momentum with its positive word-of-mouth reception, and ultimately became a pop-culture phenomenon, with many even hailing it as a masterpiece of contemporary horror. I personally didn’t find it as scary as many deemed it to be but there certainly was an air of freshness to it in a time when majority of horror films coming out of Hollywood were stories filled with dull plot, bland characters & cheap thrills.
And that’s exactly where James Wan’s tale of demonic possession separated itself from the pack. By drawing upon the style of 1970s chillers, abstracting horror from its suspenseful atmosphere & minimal settings, and eliminating the uncalled violence, tiresome gore & mindless killings from the equation, The Conjuring was a welcome return to old-school horror & vintage thrills that delivered some genuine frights to its unsuspecting viewers, and further solidified Wan’s status as one of the finest talents around when it comes to mainstream horror.
The Conjuring 2 adopts the same formula, bringing another one of Ed & Lorraine Warren’s cases to cinematic life by building upon the solid groundwork paved by the first chapter. It may feel like a repeat of the same phenomena all over again, albeit in a different setting, but there is more to this movie. The way it utilises its new characters while evolving the arcs of the reprising ones, and the clever manner in which it stages some genuinely effective moments of unrelenting terror are few of the many positives in a sequel that’s arguably better than its predecessor.
Set in Enfield, England in 1977, the story of The Conjuring 2 unfolds at the Hodgson residence where all the members of the family begin experiencing escalating events of poltergeist activities that ultimately forces them to seek refuge in their neighbour’s place. With police failing to offer any assistance and Britain’s own team of paranormal investigators arguing over the legitimacy of the case, the family’s desperate plea for help is answered by two people across the Atlantic who travel to north London to help the family in need, and investigate the scene on behalf of the Church.
Co-written & directed by James Wan, who certainly knows a thing or two about horror filmmaking, the follow-up chapter to The Conjuring opens with a prologue that briefly covers the Warren’s most infamous case, The Amityville haunting, and fills the sequence with elements that plays a key role in their next assignment. The plot then moves to 1970s London where the main premise is set and a foreboding atmosphere is established relatively quickly by the director when compared to his last venture, thus allowing the terror to surface early into the story and it only escalates from that point onwards.
If The Conjuring was an amalgamation of all the skills Wan had acquired over the years, then The Conjuring 2 is an even more refined exhibition of his talents and presents the Australian filmmaker in complete control of his craft. Many sequels suffer from their inability to keep the freshness of the original alive but by setting its plot in a different continent and adding a few well-defined characters into the mix, the script helps eliminate that issue for this film, not to mention that the story is lean, packs one expertly staged sequence after another, and provides sufficient screen time to almost every character in the movie.
Its visual design is in tune with the first film, inspired from the horror classics of the 1970s, though there are a few enhancements. The cold colour palette conjures up a darker tone than before and London’s overcast weather further magnifies it. The production design team aptly brings the 1970s setting to life. Camera is utilised as per the requirements of the scene, opting for slow movements when silence permeates every frame and turning all the more chaotic when terror reigns supreme. Editing provides a tightly-knitted structure to its ingeniously paced narrative while Joseph Bishara returns with another ill-omened score. And last but not the least, its sound design is impeccable.
Coming to the performances, The Conjuring 2 finds Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga reprising their respective roles of Ed & Lorraine Warren while new additions include Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney & Franka Potente. Both Wilson & Farmiga chip in with fab performances, however, their chemistry once again turns out to be the core ingredient that helps viewers invest in their story, and their on-screen relationship has a very genuine & heartwarming feel to it. Amongst the new cast, O’Connor sells her character’s despondency brilliantly, McBurney’s input has a calm demeanour to it, while Wolfe balances her act accordingly to deliver an outstanding performance. The remaining cast is no slouch either and play their part convincingly.
On an overall scale, The Conjuring 2 is another masterwork of horror filmmaking from James Wan and is a worthy & welcome addition to both its franchise & its genre. Sequels in cinema are often no match to their predecessors and the exceptions are even lesser when it comes to horror flicks, which makes Wan’s latest effort all the more commendable. As before, a few moments still come off as unintentionally hilarious than frightening but there is less of that shortcoming in this sequel. Also noteworthy is its clever use of humour in a couple of scenes during the first half, for it works in favour of the story & not at the expense of the scares. In short, The Conjuring 2 is mainstream horror at its most thrilling & effective, and is one of those rare sequels that improves upon its predecessor. Highly recommended.