Review: In THE CONJURING 2, The Warrens' Second Commission Is Not As Great

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Review: In THE CONJURING 2, The Warrens' Second Commission Is Not As Great

The Conjuring 2 has at least two crosses to bear.

Firstly, it's burdened with being based on the exploits of a well-documented real-life demonologist couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren. Audiences expect authenticity. Secondly, it's a summer tentpole sequel for a major studio, and must satisfy in that regard. In short, the film is expected to walk both the straight and narrow but also go wide and broad.

Setting the any questions of the real-world validity of their pursuits aside, the Warrens of The Conjuring are absolutely great movie characters. Played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, they once again imbue them with earnestness, commitment and drive. Their Warrens are people of faith on a far-fetched mission, and they know it.

They are off on their own crusade, yet remain on board with their Roman Catholic church hierarchy, even when it's difficult. (Which it often is.) They are self-proclaimed "agents of the church," a fleshed-out real couple operating in the service of a highly imperfect institution that operates in the service of the Greatest Good. The films make no bones about this.

Like The Exorcist before it, The Conjuring films hinge on audiences buying into the reality of demonic evil. At least, the film's version of demonic evil. Even the most staunch atheist can suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy a well executed ghost story, which the first film, 2013's The Conjuring, certainly qualifies as. (Strictly speaking, that wasn't a ghost. But the point is clear).

The alluring tag "based on a true story," or even the watered-down version, "based on true events," brings certain baggage with their self-professed commitment to truth. In this sense, The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 director James Wan must be both a spook house showman and a trustworthy re-framer of alleged biography. Wan is up to both tasks, as proven with the first Conjuring, a taut crowdpleaser loaded with as much earnestness as visual trickery.

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For an experienced filmmaker who still qualifies as young and trendy, Wan, whose previous film was the globe-hopping mega-hit Furious 7, is refreshingly good at cultivating a good old fashioned air of fear. With both films firmly rooted in the 1970s, the first one in an American farm house, this one in urban London, his evocation of the atmosphere of dread so common in horror stories of the era is convincing without becoming a set dressing/wardrobe/hair styling sledgehammer.

Without falling into the common trap of playing gaudy dress-up with his actors and locations, Wan has delivered two films that feel period accurate, but are also in step with today's filmmaking. His camera moves and cutting style could be employed on most any contemporary-based horror film to positive effect.

Pacing, however, proves to be a stumbling block this time. The question of why this movie needs to run 134 minutes is second only to the question of why these films are called "The Conjuring," an apropos-to-nothing title. Overlong and overfamiliar, The Conjuring 2 attempts to slow-brew it's way to an otherwise effective final climax. The trouble is, by that point, it's too little too late. The most engaging story moments come well over the two-hour mark, already too lengthy for most any self-respecting horror film. A third act twist falls under the category of "great story idea," buried far too deep in the running time.

Aside from the sheer watchability of Wilson and Farmiga as the Warrens -- characters I'd suffer though worse films than this for -- too much of The Conjuring 2 is familiar tropes and time spent with the British household that is under siege. It's based on the true-life "Enfield poltergeist" case, which spanned from 1977 to 1979. It doesn't help that the family in the first film, led by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston, were more sympathetic. We are made to be rightly concerned about Lorraine's horrific visions of her husband's gory death, yet there's an exploitative quality about the film's repeated showings of her premonitions of Ed dying.

A few on-the-nose song cues are forgivable in a movie like this, but here there are at least three. One is "London Calling" by The Clash when the focus shifts to London. It's edited to a montage of London iconography; an early warmed-over riff in a movie full of familiar warmed-over riffs.

Non-musical riffs include these old classics: Loud supernatural banging at the door ... eerie disembodied whispers ... freaky-ghost jump scares... and a particular favorite of mine, a haunted toy truck rolling down the hall all by itself. These will ring a bell with anyone who's seen a haunting movie before, regardless of however "factual" the occurrences themselves may be. The Conjuring 2's lesser first hour would've benefited from a good 20-minute trim of these instances. The audience simply doesn't need this much convincing; they're already in their seats.

Bigger problems include questions of internal logic violations and the inclusion of a truly hokey CGI "bogeyman" that Ed must square off with. Yet, The Conjuring 2 will not be excommunicated on these grounds. There's a good Conjuring sequel in here somewhere, and a technically admirable one at that. Wan, Farmiga and Wilson bear the film's crosses well and professionally.

And if the Warrens' true-life case files are any indication, there's plenty of increasingly outlandish-sounding material for future films. Here's hoping that they get that shot at redemption.

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James WanPatrick WilsonThe ConjuringVera FarmigaCarey HayesChad HayesDavid Leslie JohnsonMadison WolfeFrances O'ConnorHorrorMysteryThriller

Around the Internet

Darren MurrayJune 10, 2016 7:45 AM

I really enjoyed the first Conjuring, so I will give this film a go. My main problems with the original are more to do with the real life Warrens, and their saint like depiction in the film, which couldn't be more removed from what they are really like.

Also the sequel is based on the Enfeild Haunting, which has been proven a number of time to be total bullshit, made up by the children in the house. It is as believable as BBC's Ghostwatch.

Jeremy A HuntJune 10, 2016 9:07 AM

I thought this film was better than the first one. There is more action and scares per scene to be sure. I did think the CG crooked man was a little hokey but he got my one and only jump of the movie, which is rare for a horror movie to get me to do, so I give this movie full props.

Ard VijnJune 10, 2016 10:57 AM

Agree on both counts.

KurtJune 10, 2016 11:02 AM

I so dislike the ADHD-JumpScare nature of the first film. It's lazy and predictable, and everything HORROR should not be. But I seem to be way in the minority on this. Too bad, because I do like Wilson and Farmiga in other films, but they are wasted in this cheap fun-house filmmaking mentality.

Claus SkriverJune 10, 2016 12:59 PM

I saw C2 together with my daughter and we both agreed that C2 was better than C1. We jumped a couple of times, that's why we watch horror movies.

BaronMarxJune 15, 2016 11:11 AM

Films like The Conjuring and Insidious are very well done, but fail miserably when they take a serious tone. The feelings of dread or danger are nonexistent during their run-times resulting in an experience which is much more akin to playing a game of who can predict the next jump-scare. The Warrens have always been full of shite and so are the films based of their bogus testimonies.

Darren MurrayJune 17, 2016 6:41 AM

Seen this last night. Really good as an atmospheric horror movie, but like I thought with the original, the depiction of the Warrens and what is known about the real case lets it down.

The scene with them getting interviewed alongside Stephen Kaplan especially annoyed me, as its wasn't Kaplan that was actually part of that interview it was Joe Nickell. I think they used Kaplan as he was a Vampirologist, which can be ridiculed. If they actually used Nickell, people may look him up after the movie and realise that he did actually make the Warrens look like the charlatans they are.

Still, Wan does a great job with the horror aspects of the film, and it was nice seeing a normal Council house being the setting of a ghost story instead of a creepy victorian mansion.