*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
I’m not going to lie to you guys – for the first time in I don’t even know how long, I left the lights on while I slept. I took someone to this movie with me because I didn’t want to go by myself. I am fairly certain that if I look the wrong way down a dark hall, that creepy nun is going to be looking back at me. In short, James Wan has done something really incredible with The Conjuring 2– not only is this a good horror movie, but it’s a strong horror sequel to its predecessor. While nothing in this movie is quite as scary as the original film’s hide-and-seek clapping, I guarantee you that you will jump, try to force yourself back in your chair, and maybe shriek a little at this fright fest.
We open on Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), our friendly ghost-experts from The Conjuring (2013), investigating the one and only Amnityville home. During her reading of the house, Lorraine is visited by a horrifying spirit, causing her to become more cautious of the field she and her husband are in. Three years later in England, Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe, you can always tell which one she is, she’ll be wearing something bright red despite the rest of her family’s preferences for pastels) and her family begin to experience the signs of demonic possession- speaking in weird voices when everyone else is asleep, items traveling without anyone touching them, booming knocks when no one is there- and when no one, not even the police, can explain what is happening, a priest calls upon Ed and Lorraine to visit the home. Not everyone believes that it is a true paranormal haunting, and the church cannot legally get involved without proof. The Warrens travel to England to find the truth of the haunting and face the demon that may be residing there.
Those who know me know that I have a high standard for horror films. Jump scares are a lazy form of scary to me (since about any noise will make you jump if you play it at the right time), as are ghosts who hide in the shadows for days, only ever slightly opening a door or a cabinet. These unfortunately plague today’s big hit horror films (Paranormal Activity being a prime example), which makes The Conjuring 2 even more welcome. Sure, at times it feels a bit like a reboot of The Exorcist, with enough new twists to still feel like you haven’t heard the story before. For one thing, the ghost that haunts the Hodgson family is not at all shy about announcing itself to anyone who will listen. Sure, at first only Janet notices anything strange, but that’s because no one else is around. Her sister soon starts hearing things, and then her brothers, then her mother, then the police, all within the movie’s first half hour or so. There is nothing scarier than an evil spirit who does not care about letting you know it’s around, and the earlier it reveals itself the more chances it has to scare you.
What really has been working for these two films though are the relationships and characters that are built within them. I can’t tell you how many horror movies I’ve watched where I actually am rooting for the ghost or demon or whatever the “evil” force is to kill the people who are supposed to be our main characters, either because they are so stupid they deserve it, or because they are actually awful people and, again, they deserve it. This is not the case with the Warrens, who are continuously grown as characters from the first film and honestly are so adorable I would easily become a ghost hunter for a marriage like theirs. The Hodgson family is a little less original, since this is a horror movie and demons do seem to follow a certain pattern with the people they target. A single mother with four kids who struggles to pay expenses (and yet has a decently sized apartment with one room devoted just to the toys and a tent, even though all four kids share rooms) is definitely something we’ve all seen before. However, Janet is so sweet (and yet so terrifying for a little girl, Wolfe should get an award or something) and the plight of her siblings is so real that you’ll end up liking them all, cliche or not.
Though there is nothing quite like the clapping hands from The Conjuring in its sequel, it does try some very interesting things for scares. The nun, of course, is horrifying in its own right (if you can look at that thing and tell me it’s not at all creepy you have no fear), but then you can go into Ed Warren’s paintings (why on earth would anyone want to have a painting of that nun in their home I have no idea but apparently he thought it was relaxing). The “water in the mouth” trick to determine whether or not Janet was lying was also something I had not before seen in a possession film, and was an interesting element to add. But by far the most surprising new edition was that of the Crooked Man, which could easily have played off as over-the-top and ridiculous but was actually quite horrifying. Also, what is it about rhyming that comes out so eerie?
I am not going to lie and say that I was not worried about this movie. It was riding a very thin line between excellent and ripoff, and after Wan’s Annabelle (2014), I was a little worried he’d lost sight of what was good about The Conjuring in the first place. But be well assured- he knew exactly what he was doing with this one.
Whether or not the “based on a true story” is fully true, it gives the film a certain air of authenticity.