The Conjuring 2 Review

Posted: December 25, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

conjuring-2-posterWritten by Daniel Simpson

Back in the summer of 2013, James Wan’s The Conjuring was something of an event horror film. It had the veneer of something more sophisticated than your average horror film, it was a big hit, and it even received some really strong reviews. It was in this environment that the film ultimately let me down. It was a well-made movie, but ultimately one that did nothing new with the haunted house formula and also featured some very dull characters. This summer, Wan’s sequel The Conjuring 2 opened to even greater worldwide box-office, but made a little less domestically than its predecessor and the reviews, while still positive, were notably less enthusiastic than the critical praise for the original. I’d say I skipped The Conjuring 2 in theaters, but in actual fact, I sort of didn’t realize it was even in theaters until it was already gone. Now I’ve caught up with it at home and I feel like I could just copy and paste my review for the original The Conjuring because I more or less feel the exact same way about the sequel.

The film is set in the mid-1970s and once again follows the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), based on the real life paranormal investigators. After a particularly draining experience at the Amityville house, Loraine Warren finds herself feeling particularly drained and fearful for her family. She advocates they take a break, but the pair soon finds themselves drawn to another haunting, this one involving the Hodgson family in London who begin to experience strange occurrences. It soon seems to be the case that the ghost of a former occupant is haunting the current family.

Like the original film, The Conjuring 2 is a well-made movie. James Wan understands how to make an effective horror movie. He gives the film an appropriately dark look, the ghosts are well designed, and the tension also ratchets nicely. There are also some strong horror set-pieces, which are generally quite suspenseful and also typically have a strong payoff. The only set-piece that falters a bit is the climax, which feels a little rushed and messy. Wan was also smart to cast Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in the lead roles because they’re both good actors and they bring more dignity to both their characters and the films as a whole that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Wan also continues to do a good job recapturing the period aesthetic of the 1970s and the London setting also adds some life. The film certainly does lean into these aesthetics pretty heavily, but never in a way that feels unnatural or distracting.

Well-made though the film might be, the fact is this is yet another entry into the overplayed haunted house genre that does nothing new. We get scenes of children acting strange due to possession, séances which contact the demon, use of a cross and other religious elements as a weapon against the spirits, and darkly lit hallways with creepy things hiding in the night. It’s full of clichés we’ve all seen before. There is a twist involving what force is responsible for the haunting, but it has so little impact on the story or how the ending plays out that it hardly matters. It’s especially frustrating to compare these movies to Wan’s first two Insidious films. Those movies may lack the period setting, but at least they invent their own wacky mythology and generally have a more interesting style. The Conjuring series on the other hand, is just kind of bland.

Compounding the problem of blandness is the fact that at its core The Conjuring films are quite shallow. There is no grand story to discover nor are there deeper themes/fears at the core of each work to be unravelled. The plot for The Conjuring 2 is a very straightforward tale wherein ghost show up and some paranormal experts go to stop them from haunting a family. What little mystery that surrounds the spirit is largely irrelevant and there also isn’t some deeper theme or more compelling primal fear to be explored. Basically the whole film is built around things going “Boo” in the dark and the momentary thrill that accompanies that. That can be fun, but it’s a fleeting satisfaction and given how oversaturated the paranormal horror movie genre is, you need something more. It of course doesn’t help that the Warrens themselves remain a pair of very boring characters. I still have reservations on the film’s celebration of the duo given the pair are slick conmen to my eyes, but even looking past that the two are presented as so moral and righteous that they’re a little stiff and just aren’t interesting. With some more interesting shades I’d be able to invest a lot more into these characters and consequently the films might be more involving.

Throughout this review I’ve tried to emphasize that in spite of whatever problems the film has James Wan remains a competent craftsman. Indeed, The Conjuring 2 is a well-made little horror movie and I think a lot of die-hard horror fans will find their time well spent. I can respect that, but for me I find myself wanting a little more. In particular, I think other recent supernatural horror films like It Follows, The Babadook, and in particular The Witch do a much better job providing all the creepy horror imagery and thrills genre fans crave while also bringing new stylistic flourishes and deeper ideas to the table. I would recommend those films well before I would this one, but if you’re just looking for some light horror to throw on one weekend, The Conjuring 2 is fine.

C

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