James Wan’s horror sequel has a British accent, and it’s not all that convincing
***WARNING: This review contains spoilers***
The Conjuring 2 (dir. James Wan): Renowned horror director James Wan brings famous ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren back to the big screen—this time relocating their specter inspection from rural New England to urban London. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as the titular heroes attempting to assist eleven-year-old Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) as she is slowly possessed by the spirit of Bill Wilkins, the old man who inhabited the house before single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) moved in with her four children.
The Conjuring 2 largely follows a similar plotline to that of the first: a family is terrorized by a spirit who grows increasingly powerful and violent as time goes on. But Wan is a smart filmmaker, and he knows that without adding some ridiculous twist, The Conjuring 2 would be identical to The Conjuring, so he concocts a preposterous storyline in which a demon disguised as a deceased nun uses the spirit of a seventy-two year-old man to harass a British tween in the hopes of luring the Warrens to London so that it can kill Ed as a sort of punishment for Lorraine’s meddling in the spirit world.
That’s the story.
The film is enjoyable enough. In a crowded theater, the movie comes to life as the
audience reels in fright and then laughs in relief. But while Wan successfully manages to capture several spooky scenes and put us on edge even though we know what will happen, the film often fails at convincing us that what happens is important—or even believable. It made a certain amount of sense when the family in the first Conjuring explored the house despite all the creepiness; they didn’t believe their house was haunted, so it wasn’t so ridiculous when one of them went off alone at night to investigate a noise. But characters in The Conjuring 2 do the same thing despite knowing 100% that what’s happening to them is real, is supernatural, and is very, very dangerous—so real, in fact, that in the movie (and even real life) the occurrences have caused a media frenzy that enraptures all of Britain. The first film had palpable tension. We knew what the characters didn’t, and as a result it was believable and frightening. But in the sequel we know just as much as everyone in it—which means they make decisions we most certainly wouldn’t.
Something that impressed me about the first Conjuring was that the film managed to be very scary with no gore and no deaths. There is also no gore in The Conjuring 2, and no death, either, though it’s a problem this time around. One of the central threats established at the beginning of the film is that Ed’s life is in danger, and indeed climax includes a sequence where we see how Ed’s death might come about. But knowing that these films eschew death, and that Ed Warren didn’t die in real life because of one of his spook campaigns, completely undermines the tension that Wan tries to build. And never mind that it’s never made clear why that demon has to lure them to England through the charade of a possessed little girl to off one of the Warrens. That’s there because we need the flick to be different.
The saving grace of the film is Madeline Wolfe, who almost too convincingly plays the petrified and confused Janet. And Wan more than adequately moves us to an environment so dissimilar to that of the first that you can almost forgive the copy/paste plot. Despite its flaws, The Conjuring 2 is still far more competent than most other horror films, and it has enough chills to satisfy fans of the original. Let’s hope, though, that we don’t risk completely ruining the Warrens by having them go on any other adventures. With our luck they’ll cross paths with the real Ghostbusters.