You know a friend of mine once told me that they were scared of Daddy Long Legs spiders. When I asked him why, he told me that when he was a little kid his parents caught him pulling the legs off, and he told him that if he kept doing that, the spiders would come for him in his sleep, which understandably gave said little kid nightmares and formed the basis of the phobia. Sometimes something doesn’t need to be grotesque or obviously horrific to create fear; it just needs the right context to make it work. That’s what we have here in The Conjuring 2. By the standards of modern haunting/possession-based horror films, its events are fairly tame but they presented and delivered so skilfully that they become something greater and capable of inducing excellent scares.
In 1977, after their success with The Amityville Haunting Ed (Patrick Wilson - Watchmen) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga – Bates Motel) are asked by the church to investigate a haunting in Enfield, North London. There they an encounter an evil spirit unlike anything they’ve faced before.
Now this probably won’t be the scariest film of 2016 but quite likely the best made scary film of the year. The art direction and visual storytelling from returning director James Wan (Saw) is outstanding as he exorcises that infernal hell beast of the genre, overly used shaky cam, to the bowls of hell where it belongs. In its place, he makes heavy utilization of lengthy tracking shots and over the shoulder camera angles that keep viewers firmly within a key character’s perspective without forcing any additional drama via frantic camera swipes. Instead all tension and suspense develops and progresses in a natural easing fashion. Although it’s the clever scene transitions that really make the camerawork standout as they place us firmly within the mindset of the possessed daughter Janet. We zoom into her sleeping in bed before zooming out to her lying on the living room floor just as shocked as she is to be there following a sleep walk. It’s simple but incredibly effective stuff. Even in the non-horror scenes, the camera is rarely still, instead become a fluid moving entity around the house such as following the different kids getting ready for bed. This “gather’s no moss” approach negates another common genre problem: it's dragging. Too often in haunting stories that take place almost entirely in a singular location, the static setting will take its toll and the film will lose momentum but that never really happens here. It’s a gentle reminder that this director also has a Fast & Furious film under his belt.
This conjurer doesn’t get every trick right though. The single biggest letdown comes from some very poor CG effects around a particular spirit incarnation. It frustratingly pulls you completely out of the film’s escapism but thankfully such instances are brief, and things quickly get back to business. Then there are some heavy inconsistencies in character behavior concerning sleep: one minute the loudest banging on doors or noisy toy being set off won’t wake a soul but when it becomes plot-required, the slightest noise will have the whole house throwing off their sheets and running to the disturbance. It’s a point of sloppiness in an otherwise sound depiction of the Hodgson family experiencing the unexplained goings on. Finally, there’s a notable case of Annabelle syndrome. It’s just been announced that there will be a spin-off film entitled The Nun based on a demonic habit-wearing spirit featured in this film (well it’s not like it can get worse than Annabelle’s snooze fest). That’s all good but at some points, the film feels like it’s putting more energy into launching that character than focusing on its own story, especially during the earlier Stateside encounters with the Warren’s. It’s something that chould have been written better.
Now in terms of horror satisfaction, that’s always a difficult question because for genre fans it’s much like your choice of whiskey: there’s so many different blends and varieties and everyone has their own particular preference. For starters, The Conjuring 2 is minimal on blood, gore and body count so if you prefer your walls painted red and sticky, you won’t feel at home in Enfield. However, if you like it psychological and creepy, this is definitely the right film for you. Like the first film, it takes a superb old school scare approach, letting the unknown and your own imagination do all the work. Jump scares are present but thankfully not overused to keep them effective, and the spiritual depictions of a twisted old man and evil nun (because who doesn’t love evil nuns?.... well, apart from Catholics) present as fearsome without requiring over-explanation. Most importantly, of all homework that's not requiredm, you can jump straight in without seeing the first film.
So The Conjuring 2 is a great old-school supernatural horror offering captured with modern finesse. It boasts a good story with impressive attention to detail in recreating the people and places of the source material “true story”. Even the OTT British accents quickly fade into the scenery. Overall, it may be a slightly diminished offering compared to the first film but not by much; prior film fans will still walk away satisfied. There’s already rumblings of an '80's set 3rd film and based on these results, we actually have a modern horror franchise on our hands here that doesn’t just make on good film before countless awful sequels. The power of Christ compels you to give this film a try.