James Wan's The Conjuring, released in 2013, was one of the best horror movies of the 21st century. It revitalized the genre on a general audience scale and honestly was much needed! So of course, naturally success brings sequels and spinoffs. First was Annabelle, the spinoff origin story of the creepy doll that was featured in The Conjuring. Annabelle did pretty well at the box office, considering its modest budget, but it wasn't critically welcomed, and the public also generally felt that it was far inferior to the film it spun off of. Fast forward two years from Annabelle, and three from The Conjuring, and we find ourselves at the release of the direct sequel The Conjuring 2. As I discussed in my Insidious 2 review, horror sequels don't really have the best track record...so will it be possible for lightning to strike twice?
The first Conjuring was based on the case files of real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren. These fictionalized subjects of real life people make a natural fit for a horror franchise to be built around because since they've been involved with a lot of crazy happenings, there's so much material to draw from. And that is exactly what James Wan did when coming up with a sequel; he combed through the creepiest stories to tell the best one he thought he could. The Conjuring 2 is all about a haunting in an apartment in Enfield, England by a crotchety old man. Early on, you wonder how dangerous he really is, since all he's using his powers for is to change the channel on the telly to the program he wants to watch. Seems like a regular old codger to me! Soon we find him to be more sinister with every incident that goes on, and outside help will be needed to put this family who has been haunted, back together.
James Wan is such a talented horror director. So many scenes play out so artfully and with purpose. It's like you can just see a master at work. Several times throughout the film moments just seem orchestrated to result in the perfect scare. That said, not all scares are created equal, and some definitely felt pretty throwaway, just to give the audience a jolt. There's nothing really wrong with that, but it's just the type of conditioning that makes general audiences feel like all horror movies need to be jumpy ones, instead of slow burners they can't appreciate like The Witch. Also regarding some of the scares, some of the CGI really felt out of place to me and took me out of the film. I appreciated the concept of what they were going for in two particular places, but I'm not sure they pulled it off completely effortlessly. The other thing about some of these ghosts is that they seem much more Insidious and much less Conjuring. Maybe Wan is trying to create a shared cinematic universe here, but I just would prefer some of the stylistic choices of ghosts and demons to stay with Insidious and not spread to everything else James Wan does.
But The Conjuring 2's strengths don't just lie with its director. Once again in its sequel, Ed and Lorraine Warren played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are terrific in their roles, and play off of each other incredibly well. Whenever they're not on screen in The Conjuring 2, you desperately want them to find their way to where the action is so they can be a part of it. The supporting cast is all solid as well, without a false note among the bunch. Frances O'Connor as the fear-stricken mother, and Madison Wolfe as the daughter Janet, who ends up being the most tormented of the lot, in particular give fine performances.
All in all, The Conjuring 2 is a good sequel. But there were just enough moments that had me thinking "this just isn't as flawless as the first." I wish I had had the chance to see it twice before I posted the review, because maybe my rating could move up a little bit...but on first impression I have to rate it with my gut. RATING: 7.5/10