Movie Review: 'The Conjuring 2' (2016)

Director James Wan returns behind the camera, while actors Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles in front, for this sequel to the 2013 smash.

As a lot of sequels do, “The Conjuring 2” leaves America for Europe on its second go-around. So our story picks up in 1977 north London, where a single mom (Frances O’Connor) and her four children are besieged by a poltergeist.

At first, it does the usual; playing creepy music from a jack-in-the-box, pushing the kids out of bed and pulling them into an unoccupied play tent. Then it gains control of young Janet (Madison Wolfe), possessing her.

Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga), the ghost hunters running point on the Catholic Church’s investigation, are highly skeptical at first. They travel to London, despite their reservations and talk with full-blown skeptics who are also investigating the case.

Right off the bat, there is one massive improvement from the original: the representation of skeptics. While the first movie treated the outlandish haunting claims with little cynicism; “The Conjuring 2” does.

There is even mention made of the Amityville Horror, a confirmed hoax that ensnared the Warrens in real life. The thread of "is it or isn't it real" plays throughout the movie. While the viewing audience is clearly steered to believe the portrayed events in Enfield are not a hoax, the characters inside the story are.

Like the original, the central family in the midst of the relentless haunting is incredibly sympathetic. Recently abandoned by their patriarch for another woman and living in rundown public housing, the Hodgsons are emotionally and financially vulnerable.

[Image by Warner Bros. Pictures]
It gets to a point that even if it is confirmed that they are making it all up, you cannot hold it against them. They are desperate and for good reason.

It is an empathy Ed and Lorraine share for the family. Indicative of this, is a standout scene that lands with surprising emotional impact, wherein Ed performs a moving rendition of the Elvis Presley classic "Can't Help Falling in Love with You". Ed's compassion in performing this beyond thoughtful gesture stirs the scene with so much poignancy that it is downright tear-jerking.

And it is in this small moment the entire movie falls into place as a horror film with real stakes. We already came to care for the Warrens in the first film and that goodwill readily extends itself to this endearing English family too. So much so, that the horror of imagining a bad outcome for them grows increasingly unbearable throughout.

James Wan never backs down from conveying the sense that bad things can happen in this universe and it is that fear that charges the film with its suspense.

When “The Conjuring 2” hurtles towards it second act is where it encounters most of its problems. Lorraine is haunted by a demon that appears to her as a distorted nun. Through which she comes to believe that Ed is in grave danger. Certain that she has received a premonition that he will not make it out of this ghost fight alive.

In order to attach to the tension this particular storyline attempts to…conjure, one would have to believe that Ed/Patrick Wilson is not signed on for another movie. You can probably surmise the answer to that.

[Image by Warner Bros. Pictures]
In the third act, the story feels pushed beyond its limits. The stall of its natural development becomes increasingly obvious as characters spin their wheels repeating the same line or question over and over again, without any resolution. The movie also over uses the dramatic drawing out of its incantations, especially when Lorraine addresses the central apparition.

Thankfully, the performances are there to boost the movie from its lulls. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are sublime as the earnest Warrens. While Frances O’Connor gives a ferocious performance as the Hodgson family’s mama bear. Likewise, the notable performance of young Madison Wolfe as Janet heralds its own share of promise, her faux British accent an especially impressive feat.

Could there have been more screen time allocated to Ed and Lorraine? Yes. Does the movie suffer without them being more central to the narrative? Perhaps. The good news is that the characters that take their place are charming.  It is a term you are unlikely to hear evoked when describing most horror flicks. Albeit it is an essential quality they need to have.

The key to any good story is a great hero and a lot of times, an even better villain. When it comes to horror, the same rule applies. The victim must be sympathetic and worth pulling for in their accord. Like its predecessor, “The Conjuring 2” accomplishes that. Rating: 7/10

[Featured Image by Warner Bros. Pictures]

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