Have you ever wondered why horror sequels tend to be far inferior to the original? Well, as I just realized this morning during my mandatory ‘shower thoughts’ ™ and as I’m sure most film majors already know, it’s because sequels tend to focus on the antagonist. How can it be as scary as the original if we already know the mystery behind the evil? It’s not something that’s easy to pull off and those films tend to get weaker as the sequels go on, eventually moving into comedy-horror territory.
Admittedly, I still enjoy franchises like Critters, A Nightmare on Elm Street and (about half of) Friday the 13th. But history is littered with failed horror sequels of good films, like The Amityville Horror, The Blair Witch Project and the other half of Friday the 13th.
Maybe that’s what makes The Conjuring 2 work so well. The new film focuses on our protagonists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) which is a much better idea than following the further evil exploits of the first film’s big bad.
This time it’s a British family being tormented by an unknown entity and boy is that entity a jerk. Like the first film the haunting starts off slowly, with knocks and strange sounds, but it quickly ramps up into moving furniture, harming people and even possession. (No, this isn’t a spoiler, silly. If you’ve seen a single horror film revolving around evil spirits you would know there is a series of tropes that are almost always followed to the letter. It’s the execution that makes a movie like this good or bad.)
Divorced mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) is doing everything she can to keep her house and her four kids healthy and happy, but things aren’t easy since daddy left and never looked back. The bad things start to happen when 11 year old Janet (Madison Wolfe) starts to hear and see things that aren’t there. Eventually all the children start to experience paranormal torment until, at last, things ramp up enough that the Warrens are asked to investigate.
That’s as much plot as I’m willing to offer. Although big fans of the genre will figure out where things are going pretty quickly, I’m still not willing to delve too deep into spoiler territory.
Instead I’ll get into what works and what doesn’t. A lot of the scares are legitimate. Director James Wan directs this one with the same confident hand as he did in the first, letting mood and tension build slowly in many scenes. Misdirection and fake-outs abound, though there are still a few mandatory jump-scares sprinkled within. Additionally the acting is still good, especially Frances O’Connor and Benjamin Haigh (playing little brother Billy). When kids are the focal point of an evil force, it always helps to have good child actors in place to make it believable.
What didn’t quite work for me was Vera Farmiga being very wishy-washy at times. I understand a crisis of faith is almost required for one of the protagonists of what is still, at heart, an exorcism film. It doesn’t mean I have to like the execution.
Then there are the evil spirits themselves. I really felt that there were too many reveals too early. Yes, sometimes seeing exactly what the horror looks like can ramp up the fear but this movie went a bit too far in that direction. I honestly think the manifestation got more screen time than many of the supporting characters.
All that being said, The Conjuring 2 is still a superior horror film. Is it as good as the original? No, of course not. But it is still a fantastic film and is currently the best horror movie of 2016.
The Conjuring 2
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: James Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson
Running time: 134 minutes