The Conjuring 2 (2016) Movie Review

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I came out of “Conjuring 2” unnerved by my experience.  I was looking forward to the comfort of walking out the movie theater to a nice sunny day.  Unfortunately for myself that was not to be.  When I walked through the exit of one the independently owned cinemas in my area I came outside to a dark cloudy day with the wind howling and rain beginning to fall from the sky.   The outside world was going to be no comfort to as I drove home all alone with constant images of what I had just seen in the movie theater.

I think it’s clear that I believed “Conjuring 2” successfully delivered upon its potential to scare and frighten (well at least) me.  The theater I was in appeared to be locked in during the entire runtime with several screams and gasps heard throughout the movie’s runtime.  It even caused the three teenage girls sitting in front of me to finally put their cell phones away and watch the movie.  For me, the first “Conjuring”, directed by horror maestro James Wan, was a huge breath of fresh and delivered not only one of the best horror movies of the young century but also one of my favorite movies of 2013.  A sequel would have a lot to live up too.  2014’s prequel film “Annabelle” was not the film that would be able to do that.  While I thought it had its moments it was a pale shadow of what had come before (and did not have Wan as a director).

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But “The Conjuring 2” made the first step to correct the franchise with getting James Wan back in the directing chair coming off of the worldwide blockbuster “Furious 7” (his other horror credits also include the original “Saw” and “Insidious”).    When watching the movie it becomes apparent that Wan is the biggest star of “Conjuring 2”. That’s not a knock toward the really great performances of the main actors but instead of compliment to how great of job his directing is.  The camera work in this movie is incredible with some of the most beautiful framing shots the genre has to offer.  Wan clearly knows how to fill each part of the screen to be eye pleasing and stay incredibly loyal to the rule of thirds that every film student is taught.  He is able to build the tension with very long tracking shots that make you wonder, every time the camera moves, what’s going to be shown (or even) not shown next?

But along with the horror comes a really good story. The story of “Conjuring 2” picks up again with the paranormal investigators of the last film Ed and Lorraine Warren (played once again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).  The pair is just getting their taste of real fame after their investigation into the “Amityville Horror” case. In England though there is a family that is becoming consumed with a ghostly presence that sets the stage for one of the most documented paranormal investigations in modern history.

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The story of the movie follows a lot of familiar beats of the first film.  It has its “cold open” case in Amityville (in the first film it was the Annabelle doll) and then a text crawl locking the viewer into the mindset of what about to see is based off reality.  Some other beats are revisited but this movie isn’t copying what they did in the first film.  It’s clear now that there is a franchise formula in the same way that “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” has a formula that they stick too.  In that obviously this movie isn’t going to have the same type of surprises as the original movie did.  That being said for a while I wasn’t sure what would happen next, so there is still an air of mystery to it despite not being as fresh as the 2013 “Conjuring”.  Also as a side note if you haven’t already, don’t watch the trailers it gives away a bit too much of the movie’s scares.

Unlike a lot of horror movies though this movie has a heart and that heart is Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Their relationship is tender and becomes the soul of the film.  “Conjuring 2” has their relationship developed from the last one and their chemistry is even greater from the original “Conjuring”.  You want to see more “Conjuring” movies partly because you’ll want to see the relationship continue because they are two wonderful characters (based off their real life counterparts).  There is a great scene that slows down the movie and really showcases Ed and Lorraine as people comforting this family that is being terrorized by a spirit.  Some horror fans won’t like it but for me I loved seeing the tenderness and care come out of these characters (I won’t go into great detail because I want audiences to experience it for themselves) and scenes like that help separate “The Conjuring” from other horror franchises. It’s trying to be more than just good horror; it does want to be a good film.

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The rest of the performances really work as well, even from the child actors.  Child actors in general are hit or miss and that especially true in horror movies.  But (again) like “The Conjuring” Wan casts some wonderful young talent that hold their own against the older veteran talents and the sometimes heavy material they are dealt with.  Madison Wolfe is the biggest standout of the child actors.

But most people will want to know is this as good as the first one?  I would say not quite.  While this movie is scary and had me looking away from the screen several times (not to mention several terrifying characters) the movie starts to fall apart in the finale.  For almost the entire runtime it was almost as good as the first “Conjuring”.  But, after the terrific build up throughout the movie, the finale did not pay off that build up nor did the stakes feel quite as high as they should.  It’s not a bad ending at all but it’s not the grand finale that there should be nor does it compare to the original ending in the first “Conjuring”.  I also thought there were a few moments where Wan brought over a little too much influence from “Insidious”.  Not that I don’t like “Insidious” but I like the two franchises being very separate.

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Still, horror movie sequels are similar to comedy sequels they hardly ever work or live up to the first movie (although I think the horror genre has a better average than comedy).  To find a decent horror sequel is one thing but finding a great horror sequel is another thing. “The Conjuring 2” is one of those sequels.  It’s not quite as good as the first movie but it does live up to its legacy.  This franchise is quickly becoming the franchise I recommend to non horror fans to check out.   Not only is it a scary movie but it’s filled with well written characters, genuine performances and a beating heart.  I had a great time with this movie and I really hope we get a “Conjuring 3” (with Wan back again, hopefully).

Final Score

8/10

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