THE CONJURING 2 (Warner Bros.)
Dir. James Wan, Script. James Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe
Plot: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson, Farmiga) travel to London, to investigate a seemingly haunted house.
The Conjuring: it seems that James Wan’s innovative horror-cum-blockbuster has really been the genre’s saving grace, its beacon of light in a period of great darkness. Without question, The Conjuring captured the minds of general moviegoers in a way no horror movie has done this decade (although special mention should go to the brilliant It Follows for reminding me last year how good horror is when done right), made a ton of money most blockbusters would be happy to have, and of course led to the spin-off movie Annabelle, which nearly succeeded in ripping apart any good will I had for the series. But, after three years, horror maestro Wan has returned, as if to save the horror genre from its impending, stupid-character-jump-scaring doom, and also to save the flagging Warner Bros, reeling from financial disappointments and noticeably devoid of franchise fare.
So, is James Wan the messiah? Short answer – yes. Because The Conjuring 2 is not just a terrific horror movie, but an objectively good film as well. Last year, when Wan attempted to make the jump to mega-blockbuster filmmaking with Furious 7, it seemed as if Wan wasn’t quite in his element, and I didn’t feel like he did his considerable talents justice (although Universal won’t mind his movie collating $1.5bn at the box office). But Wan has returned to his domain in outstanding form; to say he is the undisputed king of horror movies right now would be an insult. In fact, Wan is more like the Roman Empire of horror movies – conquering everything in his path, and also giving gifts of strong scares and visuals to lesser horror movies he has defeated. The Conjuring 2 will most certainly be copied by many a studio in the coming years, just as The Conjuring is already making its mark.
The direction is simply superb – every shot and every cut feel purposeful, every scare has at least something going for it (whether it be suspense or shock value), and Wan has full control of his audience. Sure, The Conjuring 2 does have a lot of jump scares, but the whole film has this building sense of dread right through it. The camerawork can often be totally stunning, and some of cinematographer John Burgess’s work here is fantastically inventive. It feels like every decision Wan’s team made in terms of the visual presentation was the right one; there are very few cuts that don’t need to be there, and every shot is carefully thought out (a single shot interrogation of a spirit is particularly impressive). Also, Wan’s construction of scares remains one of the best of any director working right now, and its easy to see his experience on creating Saw and Insidious here.
Scare-wise, The Conjuring 2 delivers very nicely. Like I was saying earlier, a lot of why the horror of this movie works is because the film builds quite nicely – the early scares are inventive, but they’re not going to stop you from sleeping. But by the time we reach The Conjuring 2‘s truly insane climax, we have jumped way up the Old El Paso spice scale. Some of the scares don’t quite work because of familiarity, and I have to say that some of Wan’s tactics are predictable, but when they do come off they are definitely effective. I would honestly say that a horror movie hasn’t scared me as much as this one did for quite some time. I’m sure you’ve heard about the already-infamous nun, so successful she has a spin-off movie in the works already, and on the basis of this I’ll be putting my face in my hands for most of that film. Her look is satanic to the point of parody, but when she’s on screen, your bowels will be moving like a squirrel.
The acting is also not too bad, although no horror movie has ever really prided itself on its performances in recent years – the standout here is Patrick Wilson, continuing to nail the character of Ed Warren with a superb everyman quality. Wilson is extremely earnest in his display, and only those who lost their souls a long time ago won’t care about him. His wife, Vera Farmiga, is solid too, although it does feel like she’s there to do a bit more screaming than her husband. The rest of the performances are as serviceable (although a decent turn from Madison Wolfe shouldn’t go unmentioned) as you might expect in a film where most of the acting revolves around screaming at a demon who looks like Ebenezer Scrooge on speed.
There are flaws in The Conjuring 2 that can’t be hidden though – the four-strong screenwriting team have decided that the only way to remind the audience that the bulk of the film takes place in London is to have every British person put on an exaggerated accent and say ‘wanker’ in every other line, as if we also didn’t know by the constant rain. As well as that, the pacing is pretty poor to be honest – the first act doesn’t focus nearly enough on the Warrens themselves, and then nothing really happens for a good half an hour in the second, and I ended up going scare to scare wishing I could kick the plot up the arse. A few side characters feel very cookie cutter too, notably Franka Potente’s minor role as somebody who is meant to make the audience question the legitimacy of all these scares being real by saying the word hoax in every sentence she utters.
But while these problems are present, you’ll be too tense to even notice. The best thing about The Conjuring 2 is that it has the feel of a blockbuster (and the run-time – 2 hours 13 minutes is incredibly long for a film like this, and regardless of Wan’s best efforts that simply isn’t justifiable) as well as the feel of a horror movie. It has scope and scale, as well as focusing on character, with the Warrens’ relationship being very well realized. And, of course, there’s all manner of possessed props, tape recorders, microphones and demon nuns to twist your guts inside out. If only James Wan directed every horror movie.
BEST WATCHED: Cinema, tomorrow, with your most fragile friend.
With Warner Bros. struggling for guaranteed hits at the moment, I’d definitely be hedging my bets on a Conjuring 3, which is in no way a bad thing. Both Wan and screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes have expressed their interest in continuing the story, although rumours have it that Wan, who is already signed on to direct the DC Universe film Aquaman, will be too busy to direct if there is a third instalment. Before that happens though, a spin-off of the nun from this film, originally titled The Nun, should be coming within the next couple of years, but I do fear that if the movie is anything like Annabelle that character is going to be damaged irrevocably.