Review: The Conjuring 2
James Wan knows what he is doing. Today's horror is often just a hodgepodge collection of jump scares loosely assembled around an uncompelling narrative. It has become more about how many times you can make the audience gasp than about telling an actual story. So Wan's The Conjuring 2, with its rich characters and thoughtful progression, offers a welcomed refrain from the well the genre usually runs to. Beautifully shot, beautifully rendered and fully imagined, it earns its 134-minute runtime by filling the experience with unnerving terror.
The film follows Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively), the husband and wife paranormal investigators, who are called in when there are malicious spirits in a home. In this instance, the malicious spirits have possessed Janet (played by Madison Wolfe), an eleven year-old girl who lives on an idyllic UK street reminiscent of Privet Drive from Harry Potter. Janet lives in the house with her single mother and three siblings. As they try to make ends meet, a spirit who believes it is his home possesses Janet in an effort to expel them from the house.
When the Janet's mother is overwhelmed by what is going on in her house, she reaches out to the Catholic Church, who then call in the Warrens to investigate. Upon arriving on the scene, the Warrens make an effort to reach the malicious spirit and find out what it wants. In the process, spirits start to take aim at them as well. The film's tension not only comes from whether or not they are going to be successful in getting rid of these spirits, but also in watching the human elements interact and create a fully-realized film.
It would be difficult to point to just one thing as the reason the film works so well. Everything from Wan's masterful creation of unnerving tension to the spot on performances of the entire cast escalate the experience. The terror reflected on Farmiga's face feels fresh in every scene, taking the audience to new depths each time her character encounters a new element. One particularly masterful scene involves Ed Warren attempting to talk to the spirit. Wan uses depth of field masterfully to both amp up the mystery surrounding the spirit and to deepen Ed Warren's humanity in a single shot. The extended scene highlights what is best about the film, but there are numerous examples where the filmmakers have gone above and beyond to create a fully fleshed-out film.
Each character has a purpose, but none exist solely to move the plot along. Their motivations are internally consistent and they all feel like they had lives before and after the events of the movie. The Warren's love story feels like it could be the subject of an entirely different movie. It is clear the filmmakers thought about how their past would inform their interactions with one another and the outside world. That the film maintains this thread while still creating true fright is a testament to the talents of all involved.
Whether it is the minor character with a family history or the children living in the house, everyone feels real. When Janet can't understand why the spirits use her, you feel genuinely sorry for this little girl. When Lorraine fears for her husband's life, you feel like it is based on a real history and not just some empty plot device meant to fill time. The film also rewards a close viewing as there are fun surprises throughout if you pay enough attention. Yes, the jump scares you are used to are there. This is still a fairly conventional horror film. It is just that those scares are enveloped in true drama. The film drips with dread and provides something for everyone, as long as they are ready to be truly afraid for characters they genuinely care about.
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