James Wan follows the commercial success of The Conjuring with another supernatural tale from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren. This stylish film has moments of brilliance that are somewhat diluted by overblown special effects and unsatisfactory dramatic focus.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about James Wan’s work is that he often showcases flashes of technical brilliance only to let himself down by forgetting to give his characters and plot room to develop. The Conjuring 2, his stylish follow-up to the franchise’s earlier hit, is another example of a supernatural thriller from Brand Wan that bursts at the seams with technical ingenuity only to fall a little flat when the sum of its parts are added up.
That isn’t to say there aren’t many appealing things about this haunted house movie. Understandably, with the talent the director clearly enjoys, particularly his ability to coerce the audience into a false sense of security only to hit us with a big scare, The Conjuring 2 boasts moments of real brilliance that will thrill both casual horror fans and the more hardened aficionado.
One sequence sees the ghost of an old man manifest itself as Patrick Wilson’s paranormal investigator Ed Warren tries to communicate with it. Wan allows the scene to play out largely in a single take with the ghostly manifestation remaining out of focus in the background. It’s a delightfully effective way to raise the hairs on your neck.
Another sequence involves Vera Farmiga’s psychic Lorraine Warren finding out that painting might have a life of its own. The figure in the artwork by her husband depicts a deeply unsettling image of a ghostly nun with piercing yellow eyes – imagine a 60-year-old Marilyn Manson auditioning for Sister Act. It just goes to show what can be achieved from a simple image. Of course, Wan isn’t satisfied with just a painting, he makes the inanimate animate. It’s one of the film’s most memorable sequences and a reminder what a great central villain The Conjuring 2 has.
Yet, at other times he lets his imagination become reliant on overblown special effects which result in some of the film’s less successful moments. The finale’s grand scale, for example, feels out of place not only within the thematic constraints of a family under threat but within its staging on this intimate, nondescript suburban street. Crosses turning themselves upside down, bizarre dream sequences and a stick-like character escaping from the cartoon of a zoetrope are sideshows to the dramatic arc of both Madison Wolfe’s beleaguered Janet Hodgson and Ed Warren whose life appears to be in mortal danger as a result of tackling this paranormal case.
And in developing this horror film franchise, The Conjuring 2 takes one of Britain’s most widely documented cases of the paranormal and shoehorns its protagonists into a true life story they, in actual fact, had nothing to do with. It takes something away from Janet’s story – a girl seemingly haunted by a malevolent spirit who can speak through her with gruff, cigarette smoke breath – and so her plight to extricate herself from this harbinger of doom plays second fiddle to Ed and Lorraine’s overarching story arc. The film even glosses over some of the best evidence found during the real life case, bringing investigator Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) into play as a disappointing after-thought.
The film is far more successful when working with silences. Janet’s younger brother pushes a toy truck into a tent only for it to be pushed back by unseen hands and police officers investigating a disturbance at the house witness a chair sliding across the floor. It’s Wan’s pacing of these scenes that’s most pleasing. He adds a few extra beats before the big reveal, almost as if he’s saying this time there won’t be a big jump at the end. Wan hits you when you’ve let your guard down, when you’re most vulnerable. It’s a neat trick.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed The Conjuring 2 on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment which released the film on DVD, Blu-ray, Digital HD and limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook in October 2016.