In every power struggle we see or read about, there is always a balance between light and dark, good and evil, Yin and Yang. It’s the same balance that is required to keep things compelling. Too much light and you’re squinting all the time. Too much evil and everything seems irredeemably hopeless. After years of trying, and nearly succeeding with the chilling Insidious, James Wan has found the near perfect balance to elevate his sequel, The Conjuring 2.
In this sequel to the critical hit The Conjuring, director and co-writer James Wan continues to explore the horror universe he’s visually linked with the start of Insidious. Some of the visual elements seem similar to his past films but dialed up to eleven. The slight familiarity with the creature design, atmospheric aesthetic, and gyroscopic camerawork can in no way be attributed to directorial laziness. Every single one of those elements has been improved since his previous film bringing to life a completely new chapter in the Conjuring narrative, while connecting it together with the Wan’s recognizable cinematic charm. There is the introduction of a new creature design different from anything that Wan has previously produced. While it’s a fresh approach for Wan, there is a delightful nostalgic feel to the creature that is hauntingly reminiscent of movie monsters of the decade the film takes place.
There is the introduction of a new creature design different from anything that Wan has previously produced. While it’s a fresh approach for Wan, there is a delightful nostalgic feel to the creature that is hauntingly reminiscent of movie monsters of the decade the film takes place. Wan also raises the stakes by creating beautifully designed set-pieces that allow him to flow with ease from room to room, keeping as much of the film as a continuous shot with few interrupting transitions. This includes ignoring such pesky things as walls and windows by either having the camera go over them or glide through them. His continued use of tightly framed, uninterrupted shots continue to be the perfect way to easily build suspense by simulating the feeling of claustrophobia and cutting off the peripheral vision, making us aware of our limited sight and the things that could possibly be lurking just outside of our view. Sometimes it is the things in clear view we should be paying more attention to. Keep an eye out for recurring clues that will come in handy at the climax of the film.
The technical aspect isn’t the only quality thing returning in The Conjuring 2. This sequel continues the demonic adventures of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). The performances both individually and separately are but one of many things that elevated this horror film above the other common ghost stories we’ve seen in the past. This time, Wan and his crew of familiar writers (Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes and David Leslie Johnson) shifted the brunt of the focus from the afflicted family in England to the internal struggles of the Warrens. This gave the film the needed emotional boost that we were able to only glimpse in the first film, but now find fully realized in this one. The development of the characters increased our emotional investment to them and created a sense of mortal danger for the family. Fleshing out the relationship between the Warrens gives us a chance to explore each character’s strength’s and weaknesses and realize how each represents an important part of a whole. It is also a refreshing sight to see multilayered characters in the horror genre that is prone to one-dimensional husks whose motivations never make sense and whose actions never feel genuine.
Feeling genuine has never been a problem for The Conjuring, and the sequel is no different. There is never a moment where you question if the film was really based on a true story, or what things are fact or fabrication. Not only because you spend most of the time staring at every corner of the screen expecting something to jump out, but also because the storytelling remains engaging and the character motivations feel authentic. The Conjuring 2 dabbles in demon arts and astral projection, but the most powerful force present in this sequel is the skepticism the filmmaker uses to toy with the audience. Even though our presence as the viewer is more ubiquitous than most of the characters’ in the film, we are persuaded to entertain the idea that the whole series of events are well-planned hoaxes. The inescapable pull of this red-herring is perfectly woven into the story and reinforced by magnificent camerawork to create a sense of doubt that mimics that of what the Warrens experience.
Much like the previous film, this one deals with good vs evil, demonic forces vs heavenly resolve and faith vs doubt. Where the sequel excels is by presenting an earnest view of Catholicism and how the church doesn’t always practice what it preaches when it lets politics cloud its decision-making. Instead of focusing on the church, this film focuses on the people that are part of it and exemplify its intended message. Through many interactions with the affected family, as well as interactions between the couple, we glean all the teachings we know the religion
Through many interactions with the affected family, as well as interactions between the couple, we glean all the teachings we know the religion offers but rarely get to sincerely see. In a surprising and unexpected twist, The Conjuring 2‘s religious tone is the most unfeigned and honest approach to the teachings of the religion I have seen in any film this year. Included in that assessment are the handful of faith-based films that have come out in the past 6 months that feel like they insincerely pander to audiences.
Every element is mostly in place for this film to succeed and Wan makes sure he takes advantage of it. He uses his skilled camerawork to make the experience a visual roller coaster of horrors. He then allows short reprieves and tempers the horror with sincere sentiment that you can easily forgive for nearly touching the border of sappiness. Finally, this is all brought together by the consistently impressive performances of Farmiga and Wilson, and their character’s unshakeable conviction. Rarely are horror movies this well-constructed, and their sequel deteriorate like ice cream in a scorching sun, but The Conjuring 2 proves that it can stand the heat of this sequel-filled summer blockbuster season and come out of the flames a better film than its predecessor.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)