If you asked me to make a list of the top 5 best horror film directors working today, James Wan would definitely be very high on the list. I mean seriously, why wouldn’t he be? The Australian director has made quite an impact on the genre over the past decade with the success of the horror films SAW, INSIDIOUS and especially THE CONJURING.
That last film focused on the cases of renowned real life paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren. That film became a surprise box office and critical hit when it was released back in 2013 (you can read my 5 star review of it here), so you knew for certain that a sequel was going to get made. After taking a bit of break from the horror genre to direct the massive action blockbuster FAST & FURIOUS 7, James Wan returns to the world of the Warrens to helm THE CONJURING 2. In this sequel, Wan and crew tackle one of the couple’s most famous cases: The Enfield Poltergeist.
Set in 1977 not long after their involvement in the infamous Amityville haunting, husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) decide to take a break due to the skepticism they received from the public after they became household names after that case. However the Warren’s break is short-lived when the Catholic Church asks them to go to investigate a haunting of single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children in their home in Enfield, England. As they try to determine whether the haunting could be real or a hoax, the Warrens soon discover that there may actually be a dark force within the house and it is going after family’s youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe).
I would like to first off address the elephant in the room, about the true story that this film is based on: the Enfield Poltergeist (which I must admit I knew a little about prior to seeing this film). Ever since these real life events happened back between 1977-1979, there has been debate and controversy whether they actually happened. Some believe there is evidence that there was a poltergeist, others say that there is a lot more evidence showing that it was all a complete hoax. Regardless of whether the haunting was true or not, the story itself is still rather creepy and has the potential to be a really strong horror film if done right. I know some people would’ve preferred the film to be 100% accurate to the real life events but hey as a wise man once said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn”.
So what did I actually think of the film? While I don’t think it’s quite the modern-day horror classic as the first film was, it is still a truly terrific sequel that is both creepy and engaging. This is a due to co-writer/director James Wan who once again proves that he is one of the few modern filmmakers working today who knows and understands how a horror film should be made. He does another great job with his direction here (in some ways he even outdoes his work in the first film).
Unlike most horror directors who go for those cheap shocks and lazy scares, Wan knows how to get under the audiences skin by slowly building up tension and atmosphere in a scene. So when the scary part actually happens, it’s feels like it was earned rather than being cheaply done. I know that some will complain that relies too much on jump scares but honestly, I still find most of them still be really effective. Plus he never resorts to cop-out fake ones, which is always good. His staging of the film’s scariest set pieces were both superbly well done and extremely intense (there’s two scenes in particular, one involving a painting and another involving “Ed Warren” interviewing “Janet” with his back turned to her, that genuinely creeped me out). Also with the help of Oscar nominated cinematographer Don Burgess (FORREST GUMP, CONTACT, SPIDER-MAN, THE BOOK OF ELI), Wan creates a visually stunning and atmospheric looking film that combines the old school visual style of first film with some creative modern camera techniques, I loved the use of steady-cam and high-angle tracking shots in this film. Besides giving his A game with his direction, Wan is backed by a strong cast as well. Especially with his two lead stars from THE CONJURING who make their return to this sequel.
Just like in the first film, both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga once again give truly terrific performances in their roles as “Ed & Lorraine Warren” respectively. Regardless of how you feel about the real life Warrens, Wilson and Farmiga are so compelling as these characters that we are emotionally invested in them whenever they’re onscreen. What’s even better is that this sequel actually delves into more of their character’s relationships with each other, which I actually found rather touching at times. They’re without a doubt one of the best onscreen couples that we’ve had in horror films in quite a long time. Honestly without the terrific and believable chemistry between Wilson and Farmiga, I don’t think THE CONJURING series would be as great as it is. They really are the heart and soul these films.
Not only that, the supporting cast are just as equally strong with their work here. Aussie actress Frances O’Connor was particularly good in her role as “Peggy Hodgons” but in all honesty, the stand performance of the supporting cast was definitely Madison Wolfe as “Janet”. Just like Lili Taylor’s role in the first film, Wolfe takes on a very challenging role and performs it brilliantly. Her character goes through so much emotional turmoil during the film but Wolfe handles it extremely well.
Also the script by Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes (who wrote the first film) and David Johnson (the writer behind ORPHAN and episodes of THE WALKING DEAD) is well written. I like how the film delves into skepticism that the Warrens received for their work as paranormal investigators and whether the Enfield Poltergeist was real or a hoax, which makes an even more interesting viewing. I am sure some people would have preferred if the film explored that theme more especially towards the end, which I can understand. Plus the score by returning composer/ long time Wan collaborator Joseph Bishaha is very unsettling, the production/costume was really well done, the film’s ghostly villains (particularly “The Nun”) are really creepy. There’s a nice bit of humour sprinkled here and there that brought some levity to the proceedings, and I really like the use of the Amityville haunting as the film’s cold opening, similarly to how the creepy Annabelle doll was the in the first film).
However the film is not without its flaws, while I did appreciate the film having a running time of 134 minutes to develop more of both its story and characters, I did feel that it would have been better if the film was at least 10 minutes shorter. It could have trimmed of some of the fat, especially around in the 2nd act, which I thought was a bit repetitive at times.
On a plot level, I felt that it followed a little closely to the structure and story beats of the first film. It didn’t really bring anything particularly new that we haven’t seen before in other ghost films in the past (not that it’s a bad thing, although it would have made the film even better if it did). Also there was entity that appeared in the film that was called “The Crooked Man” performed by Javier Botet, which I thought was really bizarre and felt like it came out of a completely different horror film (although I was shocked to find out that he was actually by a real life actor ’cause I honestly though he was a CGI creation). Finally I thought that there were actors a bit underused in their roles in particularly German actress Franka Potente, who wasn’t really given anything much to do with her role as real life sceptic parapsychologist “Anita Gregory. The ending was a little too over-the-top and unbelievable (even more so than the ending of the first film) and I must admit that I didn’t find the film to really all that scary. Although to be fair, I’ve been a horror fan for nearly 20 years, so it’s bit hard for to scare me these days. I still love the film regardless of that flaw.
Overall while there are some flaws that stop it from being a modern-day horror classic like the first film was, THE CONJURING 2 is a truly great sequel that’s both intense and thrilling. It’s definitely up there as one of the best sequels in the horror genre (believe me that is saying a lot especially since most horror sequels usually suck). If you are a big horror fan like I am or if you really liked the first film, I highly recommended checking out this sequel for sure. After watching this film, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing which Warren case file James Wan and crew will bring to the big screen next.
Review written by Bede Jermyn