OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“The Conjuring 2” is a horror film directed by James Wan, and starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the power couple and real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. As the title of the film implies, “The Conjuring 2” is a sequel to the 2013 film “The Conjuring”. In the first installment, Ed and Lorraine investigated a haunting that took place in Rhode Island during the early 1970s. In “The Conjuring 2” Ed and Lorraine are led to a suburb of London where the Hodgson family is being tormented by another demonic being. The Hodgson’s are briefly introduced as a respectable, yet struggling lower class family led by a stalwart single mother named Peggy (Frances O’Connor). The rest of the family is comprised of five children, of whom only one is really vital to the story. This child is Janet (Madison Wolfe), a nine-year-old girl indistinguishable from any other young girl in London except for the fact that she is being haunted by an evil spirit. The haunting manifests itself in several nighttime disturbances that escalate to the point that the Hodgson’s are forced to move out of their townhouse. Ed and Lorraine catch wind of the story after it becomes publicized in the local news, and are coerced into travelling across the pond to investigate.
The plot of “The Conjuring 2” is just a slightly tweaked version of the first film. As the supernatural disturbances increase, Janet is singled out by the demon and is slowly overtaken much like mother in the previous film. What begins as disturbing, yet relatively harmless nighttime pranks evolves into seriously terrifying and dangerous assaults on the family, eventually orchestrated through Janet herself. Once Ed and Lorraine show up in London with their cameras and tech gear, the demon goes full throttle and the film spirals into a chaotic climax. Without a doubt the strongest aspects of "The Conjuring 2" are the visuals. While they aren't smart or subtle, they are very effective. The demon takes many forms, the creepiest of which is a zombie-like, Marilyn Manson-looking nun dressed in a black robe. Probably the most unfortunate part of "The Conjuring 2" is that James Wan shows several flashes of great directing, yet cant seem to string them throughout the film. The first scene in London is a tracking shot through an urban elementary school accompanied by The Clash’s "London Calling". The scene is pretty chipper, but also manages to set the aura for the drippy, dark, dingy setting of London that lends itself well to the horror that follows later in the film.
If only there were more scenes in which Wan utilized his finer talents instead of inserting pop-outs for the sake of a momentary thrill. In “The Conjuring 2”, the scary moments are built up by visuals. For example, in one scene previewed in the trailer, Janet sits in a room covered wall-to-wall with crucifixes. The intensity slowly builds as the evil spirit takes control of the room and the wooden crosses slowly start to turn upside down, almost like “the wave” at a sporting event. The big pop out occurs as the last cross goes upside down. These scenes are a dime-a-dozen in “The Conjuring 2”. Although these scenes are somewhat frightening, they don’t actually add anything to the story. The best horror films are built by what is actually going on in the plot. Information is key, and the moments of absolute dread occur when a character sees or learns something new. An example would be in “The Silence of the Lambs”, when the protagonist Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) first encounters the serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) and gets a quick look inside his house. In that scene there are several pieces of information that were gained through dialogue and harmless visuals that culminate in a sudden, horrifying realization. “The Conjuring 2” looks scarier, but feels way dumber in comparison.
Take away the effective pop-outs and creepy visuals, and the film crumbles on poor screenwriting and a generic storyline. In “The Conjuring 2”, the dialogue feels mandatory, as if its only purpose were to move the story along. Unlike smarter horror films, the audience doesn’t have to work for any of the scares, and around every corner the film is interspersed with chippy little tidbits of dialogue that are supposed to provide comic relief. In a scene where Ed and Lorraine are preparing to explore the townhouse, Ed picks up a clunky 1970s video camera and exclaims, “It’s so small and light!” In another scene late that night when Ed and Lorraine get into separate twin beds in the townhouse, Ed expresses his discontent with being so far away. Lorraine responds with, “It’ll give something to look forward to when we get home.” So they’re about to go to sleep in a demon infested house, and Lorraine makes a sex joke? How seriously are we supposed to take this film?
For some audiences the visuals may be enough to satisfy. “The Conjuring 2” boasts incredible special effects and innovative build-ups to the big thrills. However, how much credit can you give a horror film for just being visually creepy? “The Conjuring 2” is chock full of things that are inherently creepy, like a zoetrope featuring a spindly, stalking figure called “The Crooked Man” and a dilapidated underground laundry room with flickering lights. Demons are on their own are scary. Compare these objects to those used in a great thriller like Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, “Rear Window” which utilizes elusive, seemingly mundane little details to build up to the climax. Ultimately, “The Conjuring 2” has enough gusto to outpace most modern day horror films by a mile. However, in a genre with zero competition, how much does that really count for?