Being subjected to the epithet of a sequel to The Conjuring (2013), which was one of the better horror movies to come along in quite a while, is no mean feat. The Conjuring 2 builds upon the premise laid down in the first film and enriches the experience by introducing elements usually not shown much in this genre. The movie is not without a few goofs admittedly, but it makes for a compelling viewing for lovers of the first film and the horror genre in general.
The first film took place in 1971 New England before the paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren became famous as a result of being associated with the Amityville hauntings. The sequel takes us to 1977 London showcasing the highly documented case of the Enfield Poltergeist. The story involves a single mother, Peggy Hodgson (played by a brilliant Frances O’Connor), and her four children in the midst of working-class London’s poverty, abandonment and insecurity. The 11-year-old Janet (played by a riveting Madison Wolfe) faces the brunt of the supernatural attacks both on her body and psyche. I did find it strange though that Wan chose to include The Clash’s “London Calling” as the background to a montage of British iconography whilst introducing London since the song was released two years after the Enfield hauntings.
The opening sequence is director James Wan at his best, possibly paying homage to the iconic Amityville by giving us a look through Lorraine’s eyes. Wan has been brilliant of late with quite a few hits [Furious 7 (2015), Saw (2004), Insidious (2011) and Insidious 2 (2013)], but he becomes entirely another beast when he tackles the Warren case files. He previously demonstrated in The Conjuring (2013) that he did not need blood, guts and gore to scare, unlike most horror films of the past two decades. The film is quite long (134 minutes) and requires patience. Wan too is patient in rolling out the scares, building up the terror slowly and steadily. He has become a master conductor of orchestrating a buildup of tension. No amount of special effects stand a chance in front of the dread and discordant unease created by Wan and cinematographer Don Burgess. The buildup is such that one becomes tense waiting for the inevitable scream and it’s a relief when it does come. Wan raises the intensity from scene to scene while letting the audience play with their imagination. Simple children’s toys and rhymes become instruments of terror; such is the masterclass of Wan.
Wan’s real talent is for elongated sequences that build up with breathtakingly swift intensity and force you to stay there with your heightened sense of apprehension. The cinematography has been invaluable in setting up a free sense of movement, which aids in creating a sense of no escape. The camera is sent hurtling in and out of rooms, up and down hallways, and even right through the floor so that it comes out on the other side, pressed up against the ceiling. A scene which deserves separate mention is the one in the Warrens’ house with the creepy picture that Ed painted. [Note to self: Next time you have a nightmare, do not go around painting what you saw.] Most horror films are about putting the audience through the grinder or merely creating a checklist of characters that need to be killed off before the closing credits. The best horror films, however, have given us characters to empathize with.
The best part about this franchise is that we get a compassionate look at the people who are affected. This movie features a motley crew filled with sympathetic neighbors and police(wo)men, believers and the outright skeptics. Credit must be given to screenwriters Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes and David Johnson for portraying the struggle in the lives of the afflicted family amidst the media hullabaloo. A conversation between Janet and Lorraine (played by Vera Farmiga) is beautifully shot in the yard behind the house, showing the anguish that tears up the little girl. Ed (played by a fantastic Patrick Wilson), on the other hand, comes across as an extremely lovable character with his incongruous Elvis impersonation. The scene where Ed takes a guitar and starts strumming “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is especially touching if you take a close look at the children’s faces, Janet’s in particular. While some may call this scene inconsistent and irrelevant to the plot, I believe that it was a moment of pure happiness which made them forget about their current predicament (of the old man in the room). The Warrens have a fantastic chemistry with the moments of slight tension coming from Lorraine’s reluctance to continue this line of work due to a premonition she had at Amityville. The makeup and costumes must be given a special mention for accurately capturing the times and the horror.
The penultimate and final scenes are agonizingly beautiful, something which is absent from the horror genre. No more is the franchise just about demonic possession and cheap scares. The sequel successfully includes tropes of love and sacrifice to further humanize the characters which help to draw in the audience when they experience horrific events. This franchise shows that the right director, script and actors can paint a canvas of terror without having to resort to the now-trite tricks of blood and gore.
A must-watch, especially for lovers of the horror genre and budding cinematographers!
The film is rife with scary sequences and you will often find that you had been holding your breath subconsciously on multiple occasions. The brilliant cinematography and acting, coupled with a complete lack of blood and gore, make it one of the better horror movies to come out of Hollywood’s stable over the last decade.
Overall Rating – 4/5
P.S. I was recently watching The Conjuring at a friend’s place quite late the other night. The lights were, obviously, turned off. The clap scene had just finished and I received a call. I went out into the hallway to receive the call and came back after five minutes. I saw that my friend had paused the movie, turned the lights on and was sitting on the couch with a sheepish expression on his face. I can’t wait to watch The Conjuring 2 with him.