James Wan set the bar incredibly high with The Conjuring back in 2013. In fact, it wound up being my #1 movie of the year so I walked into my Conjuring 2 screening with such high expectations it was next to impossible for Wan to meet them. But, he did manage to achieve the next best thing – delivering an engrossing and chilling sequel worthy of continuing the series.
The Conjuring 2 cracks open another Warren file, the Enfield Poltergeist. Raising four children all on her own isn’t easy for Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), but Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Janet (Madison Wolfe), Johnny (Patrick McAuley) and Billy (Benjamin Haigh) share a loving relationship and great family dynamic, which makes it even tougher to watch them become consumed by darkness. Curious bumps in the night become increasingly intense, culminating with the possession of young Janet. Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are called in, but they’re dealing with some very personal ramifications of their work, making it especially risky for them to fully commit themselves to the case.
Similar to the first film, even though Wilson and Farmiga are the headliners, The Conjuring 2 spends a significant amount of time with the victims. Margaret and Janet in particular make for very natural and likable big screen siblings, and that winds up amplifying the threat of the entity that they’re up against. Margaret is protective of her little sister so while there is some comfort in the fact that the two share a bedroom, it quickly becomes clear that she can do absolutely nothing to help Janet when the entity lashes out.
In a smart, effective story structure decision, at the start, The Conjuring 2 keeps the focus on the kids’ relationship and then slowly increases Peggy’s presence. At first she functions as a standard matriarch, keeping an eye on them and laying down the law when necessary, so when she switches gears and becomes increasingly concerned for Janet’s safety, it boosts the suspense big time through character development and details rather than jump scares.
However, The Conjuring 2 does lean on familiar types of scares more so than the first film. There’s the obligatory Ouija board, flying furniture and a bunch of loud music stingers, but there’s also more than enough fresh and very creative visual techniques to make almost every big set piece unforgettable. In an effort to avoid spoilers, keep an eye out for an incredibly well shot scene involving the nun and another neat camera trick that makes a simple interview-style conversation especially eerie.
Wolfe also deserves a good deal of credit for the high creep factor of the film. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, she navigates the range between nice, normal, happy child and twisted, devilish kid in dire need of an exorcism so well that her performance alone will make you believe – or at least in the context of the film.
Wilson and Farmiga are both fantastic again as Ed and Lorraine Warren, exuding warmth and security, but it’s their storyline that makes The Conjuring 2 far more muddled than its predecessor. Just like in the first film, Lorraine struggles with her ability to tap into the supernatural and her duty to help others because it puts her and her loved ones at risk, but in the sequel the script overcomplicates the matter by trying to weave it into the Enfield haunting. While the crossover might have been necessary to beef up the Warrens as characters and make them more than the paranormal investigators we met in the first film, the way it’s executed doesn’t make much sense and winds up diluting the main case, particularly in the third act.
But, as far as looks and performance go, both Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian) and the Demon Nun (Bonnie Aaron) are truly haunting villains. Wan takes great care with the way they look, move and speak, and then he further enhances both with spot-on shot framing and camera movements. Another sinister standout in The Conjuring 2 is an entity known as The Crooked Man (Javier Botet). He’s a more fairytale-like form of evil compared to Bill, the Nun and Bathsheba, but his inclusion is one of many examples of Wan taking a step further and ensuring that this isn’t a carbon copy of the first film.
However, Wan also makes the most of the camera techniques he uses in the original movie. Remember those incredible mobile shots that go from room to room seamlessly, introducing every member of the family in “one shot?” He uses that here too and while one might assume that the use and reuse of that shooting style would come across as a gimmick, it’s effective yet again and contributes to making this feel like a true Conjuring film.
Every once in a while The Conjuring 2 slips into Insidious territory, particularly because of the similar tones in Joseph Bishara’s score and because the scenes during which Lorraine communicates with spirits look a lot like a journey into The Further, but otherwise, The Conjuring 2 is an excellent example of what more sequels should aspire to be, unique but respectful of the tone and style established in the original movie.