The Conjuring 2 2016 Reviews - 2 Times Make Audiences Scared

The Box Office:

The Conjuring was that rarest-of-rare things, a horror movie that played like a blockbuster. The James Wan release, a 1970’s-set horror drama about a matriarch possessed by an unholy spirit, broke the opening weekend record for an R-rated non-sequel horror film. Heck, with $41 million back in August 2013, it was behind only Paranormal Activity 3 and Hannibal for all R-rated horror openings. But it didn’t stop there. Powered by strong reviews, buzzy word-of-mouth, and not a little help from its religious/conservative subject matter, the $20m chiller raced past to $137m domestic and $318m worldwide.

The Conjuring 2 review

The Conjuring 2 review

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So three years later, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back investigating another haunting. The film is again directed by James Wan, as Warner Bros. delayed the film just a bit so he could helm the project after wrapping Furious 7. And after Conjuring 2 2016, it’s off to the DC Films universe with Aquaman. Will this film be as successful as the first film?  Well, assuming it’s not that much more expensive, it can be a lot less successful and still be a big hit. Besides, the late 2014 spin-off Annabelle earned an insane $256m worldwide (including $172m overseas) on a mere $6.5m budget based partially on the popularity of the original Conjuring.

So yeah, with Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. having a challenging year thus far (even as they have two releases that may end up on my top-ten list in December), this New Line Cinema offering seems like one of their safest bets. The original film is quite popular, the spin-off was almost as big, and the buzz on this sequel (yes, I am writing this before I see the movie) is solid enough that it’s probably going to end up topping a pretty crowded weekend (against Now You See Me 2 and Warcraft). As much as I’d like to drone on about this being the year of the comparatively underperforming sequel (shut up, Civil War!), this one has all the marks of a wholly successful return engagement.

The Review:

In many ways, this is a studio’s dream franchise, with the ability to place the central characters (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga into any one of their historical adventures and craft a fictionalized haunted house thriller. In this case, it’s a famous London incident in which a single mother and her four children were terrorized in their home for a protracted period of time by a violent spirit. The Conjuring 2 is too much of a good thing. While it is gorgeously shot and elegantly composed and staged, it quickly devolves into an exercise in redundancy. After a point, it’s the same scenario repeated a number of times.

The Conjuring 2 -2 times the scares

The Conjuring 2 -2 times the scares

The James Wan sequel once again tells a “true story” (yes, I’m sure it’s heavily fictionalized and no, I don’t care) of a well-documented haunting which involved the Warrens and their ghostbusting ways. The film is 134-minutes long, and the picture puts its best foot forward in that frankly superb first half-hour. After we get reintroduced to our heroes, in a somewhat stand-alone sequence that references the real-life Amityville Horror case that made the Warrens famous, we then establish our core situation.

As with the prior film, this sequel is at its best when establishing the slice-of-life humanity of its would-be victims. The first half-hour closes on a dynamite initial scare sequence, a protracted set piece that bounces from one family member to the other. It’s so good and so well staged and shot that you can just hear James Wan boasting “I’m the best at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice!” as he rocks back and forth in a scary rocking chair. But this wonderful piece of horror filmmaking is where the film peaks.

Video: The Conjuring 2 Trailer

The picture then proceeds to merely offer variations of the “loud noise, sudden appearance, screams” jump scares. It takes nearly an hour before the imperiled family comes into contact with our leads, as we get a parallel story concerning Lorraine Warren literally being haunted by a prior case. But once the Warrens find themselves in London, strictly for observational purposes at first, the film falls into a pattern of would-be shock moments. There are a few moments of emotional oomph, and Patrick Wilson can really sing, but the focus seems to be on scares as opposed to character, which makes the film less scary.

This is where the whole “based on a true story” thing becomes a hindrance. Without going into details, we know that nothing too grave is going to occur because we know the onscreen moments have to toe the line of vague non-fiction plausibility. A good “based on a true story” horror movie compensates for this by offering a detailed and nuanced look at a family being torn apart not just by the hauntings but by the feeling of hopelessness and despair that understandably comes with it.

The first film did this in spades as did the painfully underrated The Haunting in Connecticut. There is as much of an emphasis on the Warrens and Loraine’s worries about fearful premonitions as there is about the family in peril, and the shared emphasis does both stories a comparative disservice. Francis O’Connor is terrific as a working poor single mother watching her life get turned upside down, but there isn’t nearly enough time spent on her pain and most of the kids are thinly sketched. The film has its share of jolts, but it trades that opening half-hour of goosebump-y chills for louder and sharper shock moments.

The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 can’t quite match the triumph of its predecessor, but it remains a genuine big-screen worthy horror film with a strong sense of time, place, and mood. The picture is at its best when it’s not trying to shock us but rather trying to merely make us worry. It eventually falls victim to its own bloat, using its running time not to dig deeper into its characters but merely offer more somewhat redundant set pieces.

The film builds to an engaging finale, and I appreciated that it didn’t end with a conventional exorcism. But the set-up/pay-off sequences are so repetitive that we need that focus on the family to keep our interest. This is a horror franchise unlike any other, richly atmospheric, rooted in authentic period detail of time and place, and offering a blend of non-fictional frights and horror movie jolts. I wish The Conjuring 2 was a better movie. But it’s still a franchise worth having and it’s too soon to “purge” it from the horror franchise sandbox.

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