James Wan returns to his world of hauntings with more inspiration than you’d expect for a sequel to 2013’s surprise hit The Conjuring. He has an eye for the setting of 1970s England with period dressing and a rustic motif. He has an uncanny sense of atmosphere the way he’s able to captivate the viewer with frightening new tricks in the horror genre.
It also helps that he has a stellar cast backing him up. Wan knows the type of movie he wants to make and doesn’t let himself become pinned down with trying to one-up his previous movie. That creepy Annabelle doll, though popular enough to warrant her own movie, is reduced to a mere cameo as Wan clearly has more ideas than just rehashing the same old thing.
The movie picks up with ghost hunters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) continuing their investigations of the paranormal. Opening the picture is a prologue to reintroduce us to the ghost busting couple as they confirm the demonic intent of the Amityville Horror. Lorraine shows off her unique ability to make contact with spirits and witnesses the slew of shotgun murders that took place throughout the cursed house. While having these visions, she is also haunted by a demonic nun, which brings forth much foreshadowing of a grim future for the couple.
Their primary mission for The Conjuring 2 takes place across the pond in Enfield, England, complete with UK stock footage of the 1970s and a soundtrack of “London Calling” to make the era and location clear as day. Single mother Peggy Hodgson has her hands full with too many kids and not enough money. Despite the multitude of issues her kids have, from speech impediments to smoking, Peggy still loves them enough to offer both praise and discipline.
She’s a great mom, but doesn’t quite have the determination to punish the haunting spirit out of her possessed daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). The poor schoolgirl has been taken over by the ghost of Bill Wilkens (Bob Adrian), an angry old spirit that speaks through Janet with his bitter voice. He gives her the possessed girl special with levitation, moving of beds, turning of crosses and bringing demonic figures to life in the house.
Okay, so it may not be the most original of horror pictures being another haunted house where kids are put in peril. It’s been done before in countless modern horror pictures, including Wan’s own Insidious series. And, admittedly, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t exactly trump the first movie by employing the same scenario. Thankfully, however, Wan still has the creative juices flowing to give this horror template a fresh coat of paint and offer up some surprising scares.
I was rather impressed at how the movie finds just the right pitch to play with the audience’s anticipation of fear. When a character enters a dark room with a terrifying painting of a demon on the wall, you expect something to happen with that painting. The lights go off around the painting, shrouding it in darkness. I expected a jump-scare (as there are a few), but Wan drags out the scene just long enough to milk as much tension as possible. And when the climactic fright of the scene finally creeps onto the screen, there’s enough technique and creepiness to make it one of the best scares of the year.
Most of the scares are genuinely creepy with some impressive special effects and solid cinematography. The images of demonic beings don’t appear the least bit cheap or shoddy the way they lurk in the shadows and roar with intensity. There are several amazing shots throughout including a flooded basement with spooks hiding under the water and a terrifying angle of Ed dangling out the window on a curtain.
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