Recently, I compared the original The Conjuring to a pleasant steak dinner due to its surprising quality despite it being nothing out of the ordinary. This week I attended a screening of its sequel, the oh so cleverly titled The Conjuring 2.
The Conjuring 2 Review
If the first installment was a well-prepared steak dinner, then the sequel is more akin to a five-layer bean burrito made by Gordon Ramsey. Truly delicious and made from simple ingredients that will probably make you soil yourself.
The first film told the tried and “true” story of an American haunting in Rhode Island that famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren “solved.” This time, we journey across the pond to a new haunting in a country that prefers tea over coffee in the mornings. Yes, it is jolly old England!
While I was concerned that the sequel was moving to a foreign location for the same reason most sequels do, i.e. because it was lacking on substance and needed some sort of gimmick, I am happy to say this is not entirely the case.
Based on the infamous Enfield Haunting of the Hodgson family, The Conjuring 2 does hit some of the same notes as its predecessor. However, it also succeeds in raising the bar on horror so high that, were it a theme park ride, it would be exclusive to the NBA.
Allow me to add some perspective to my claim. I have been an avid horror fan for the entirety of my adult life. From video games, to films, to books, if it is meant to scare then I want to see what it is all about.
Despite this, I can count the total number of times I have been truly scared by some form of entertainment on my hands and have a few fingers to spare. Yet at time of writing, it has been several days since I saw The Conjuring 2 and still I feel a chill up my spine as I lock up the house and turn off the lights.
While the film does contain textbook jump scares, there are quite a few that surprise and even a few that I did not see coming. I do not wish to spoil anything, but suffice to say that at one point I was willing to bet the family house on what I knew what was coming next.
Had someone taken me up on that offer I would be scribbling this review out on pilfered fast food napkins rather than a computer. Even the ghostly moments that telegraph themselves so hard even Helen Keller would see them coming still have an uncanny subtlety to them that makes it all so unnerving.
In truth quality horror is something that I have come to expect from director James Wan and here he displays a true understanding and respect for crafting memorable horror moments. Both the pacing and sound design that were instrumental in creating the atmosphere of the first film return in full force for this installment.
However, what really sets this film apart from other recent horror films is the restraint Wan shows during several scenes. Mixing moments of unease and tension juxtaposed with moments of explosive, pants-wetting terror create an unsettling air about the audience that never leaves. Once again, Wan excels as immersing the audience into the film, creating the sense that we too are trapped in this house rather than fighting for arm rests in a theater.
The visual effects are another element that need to be praised. Blending well-crafted CGI with practical effects, makeup, and even stop animation, Wan makes the entire experience all the more real by using the right effects at the right moments. Stop animation gives certain characters unsettling and inhuman movements while the CGI in some scenes gives others that otherworldly appearance that it is not of this world.
Lastly, while the first film held the tag line “Based on a True Story” its paint-by-numbers set up made it feel like your standard horror affair. Conversely, Wan goes to great lengths to recreate exact scenes in the film based on photographs from the original paranormal investigation back in 1977. These photos compared side by side with the scenes during the credits create that disturbing feeling that maybe, just maybe, there could be some truth to this story.
I went into The Conjuring 2 expecting a decent sequel to a decent movie. What I got was one of the few horror films in the last decade that truly managed to scare me and even still, leaves me hesitant to turn out the lights.