Couple of years a go I reviewed The Conjuring and called it a minor cinematic miracle, so I was very much looking forward to the sequel, even if time and time again, we have learned that in the horror genre looking forward to sequels is not the safest of bets.
After The Conjuring 2 ended (and it seemingly went on forever at a 2 hours and 13 minutes run time), my boyfriend looked at me and asked (pretty earnestly too): “How are you going to write about this movie when you missed about 45% of it?” You see, I was hiding. Behind my hair, behind my bag, behind his arm (which apparently I bruised in the process of squeezing in the middle of my hiding). Which means that The Conjuring 2 did its job as far as good, old-fashioned jumpy horror fun goes. And yet, as I walked out of the theatre, my first reaction was that I really didn’t love it as much.
Part of the reason is that The Conjuring 2 is very much exactly the same as The Conjuring, but a little less so, and expected effect since you’ve, well, you’ve seen it all before. Even the structure is the same: it opens with an earlier crime, then takes us to the Warren’s house, and then on the road (this time, all the way to England) where a family has been terrorized by evil spirits in their home.
Much like in The Conjuring, the family in question has A LOT of children (four here vs five in the original) and is so heartbreakingly ordinary you KNOW that nothing good is going to come off it. The one notable difference is that this British family is anchored by a single mom (the always lovely Frances O’Connor, proving once again that James Wan has as keen eye of an eye for character casting as he does for bumpy reveals) and that the person possessed is one of the children (a very American Madison Wolfe doing a stellar 70s British teen turn) and therefore, the situation is perceived as much more vulnerable. The fact that these people live in a house where all the paint seems to be permanently peeling and the moisture seems to make everything look like it is rotting from the inside and the children build creepy fabric tents in the stairways should serve as a foreshadowing of some sort but, hey, it is a horror movie. Of course there is foreshadowing.
The next steps are a pretty classic horror cocktail: add 2oz of The Exorcist, sprinkle in some Babadook, garnish with some Poltergeist and serve with an Insidious cherry on top and enjoy. And for most part it works. Wan is a horror fan and he wears his fanboydom with pride, so even when he rips the standards off (which he does often), you can’t get too upset, the whole thing feels too much like a fun tribute to the genre as a whole.
The real problems start arising with the solutions (which there is an attempt to make at least feel SORT OF original since they are based on true stories that have not been covered on film before), which, at the risk of spoilers, are substantially less intriguing or humane than in the original Conjuring. And Wan, in his seemingly endless carnival obsessions, throws in random demonic/ghost characters with his signature scarecrow aesthetic, which was sort of fun once upon a time, but not feel like we’ve seen these ghouls one too many times over. As good as he is at casting real living humans (Franka Potente and Simon McBurney are also notable addition in the mix), he does need a newer, fresher, weirder monster creator.
Having said that, I DID spend most of the movie hiding (though never from those CGI monsters) so what do I know?
Was it fun and even funny? Yes. Did I enjoy the original more (on a purely visceral level)? Yes. Does is feel repetitive and derivative? Yes. But it is bound to find fans and yes, even help create new ones. For those new to the Wan universe – welcome to the dark side. Your appetizer awaits.
In other news, this trailer played right before the screening, and looks like the best horror thing to happen to this summer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ct8kBEWmG_s