Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: The Conjuring 2


Most horror fans I know really liked James Wan's 2013 70's fright fest The Conjuring.  The premise was simple, a husband and wife investigate a haunted house that is affecting a family in Rhode Island.  The couple (real life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren), played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, tries to perform an exorcism on the Mother of the family (Lili Taylor).  I thought it was rather average for a horror film (3 JRs) but I really didn't find it overly scary or creepy.  With Wan's follow up, The Conjuring 2, featuring the same two lead paranormal investigators and using plot lines ripped from actual events in London, England, everything seems to be kicked up a notch in the creep factor thanks to a demonically possessed 11 year-old and a trio of evil manifestations.

The sequel picks up shortly after the original ends.  Ed and Lorraine are continuing their careers as paranormal experts and appearing on various talk shows as others try to debunk their work as elaborate hoaxes.  When a family in a row house in London (a single Mother, two sons and two daughters) start experiencing strange occurrences at home including moving chairs, teleportation, loud noises and possession of daughter Janet, word spreads and the Warrens make a visit across the pond to investigate.  The bulk of the film consists of the paranormal investigation and attempts to interview the possessed subject and find out if everything that is going on is real or a hoax.  Wan does a great job of using long takes to prolong the creep factor.  I actually jumped a few times but most of the scares are atmospherical and not cheap.  A scene in particular where Wilson is talking with the spirit through Janet is shot with an altered depth of field in a single take so when Janet speaks in a demonic voice, she is blurred in the background while we see Wilson's face the whole time and can focus on his reactions.

In comparison with the first movie, I believe I found the sequel to be much more frightening because of the different levels of evil manifested on-screen.  Without giving much away in the spoiler department the film employs (in order of least-to-most disturbing) a creepy deceased 72-year-old man who is trying to possess Janet, an evil nun-man with a demonic pale face that somewhat resembles Marilyn Manson and The Crooked Man, a tall skinny Slenderman type of childhood character come to life.  All three "monsters" are scary in their own right, but Wan uses them sparingly in just the right amount of screen time to make them very effective.  The Crooked Man moves really erratically and I was sure the effects were done via CGI, but I have since read about a tall skinny actor named Javier Botet who plays the creature.  Real life practical effects are always a welcome sight in the horror genre.  In contrasting the two films, the difference really is in the subjects of possession.  The Conjuring had a middle-aged woman being possessed by a demon.  The Conjuring 2 has an 11-year-old girl being possessed by a deep-voiced old man.  I'm sorry, but Exorcist-style possession always trumps adult possession for me.  Seeing a child affected the way Janet is in this movie is far more disturbing as a viewer.

The acting is solid throughout.  Farmiga emotes well on her character's fears of the supernatural and on the premonitions of her husband's death.  Wilson is great as a father-figure and gives a few scenes of some well-needed comic relief, including a hilarious line that references the bulky videography equipment of the era.  Two actresses who shined in the early 2000's give good performances in supporting roles.  Franka Potente plays a skeptical scientist in the first time I've seen her on-screen since Run Lola Run and Frances O'Connor plays the mother of the family in the first role I've seen her in since being Haley Joel Osment's Mom in A.I.  Madison Wolfe does a fabulous job of playing Janet with a mix of innocence and fright.  Without her believable performance, the movie would not be as effective as a whole.

James Wan seems to be the new master of horror.  His most recent films have all been relatively well received (including a turn at the helm of the Fast and Furious franchise).  I wouldn't mind seeing a third Conjuring film down the line and judging by early box office receipts, I'm thinking New Line will be heading in that direction.  This movie should be seen in the theater and is a must-see for EVERY true horror movie fan.  Not only is The Conjuring 2 the scariest movie I've seen this year by far (take THAT!, The Witch), it is simply the BEST movie of 2016 to-date.  A near perfect 4.5 out of 5 JRs for a disturbing time in London.

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