Sequels to successful horror movies are strange beasts. We’ve been trained to wince at horror movies that have ever increasing numbers at the end of their titles. We complain that they’re all cheap cash grabs and rehashes of the movies that came before it, but we always secretly hope that they live up to the original or manage to capture the same proverbial lightning in a bottle. The more impressive the original film the more volatile people’s reactions will be when its inevitable sequel comes out. So when a sequel to one of the best horror movies of the last 15 years comes out, you bet people are going to get divisive about it.
The Conjuring 2 is the newest project from horror master James Wan. He’s really becoming a household name in horror directing over the last few years, especially after the massive critical and financial success of the first Conjuring movie. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back as the adorable demon slaying power couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, and in this movie they’re sent off to England on behalf of the church to investigate a potential haunting. A down on their luck, lower-middle class family have noticed strange things happening to them and their house; their daughter teleports in her sleep, furniture is moving around on its own, and some of the kids are seeing some suspicious things. Sound familiar? It probably does, because the setup is pretty much the same as the first Conjuring. Luckily that’s where the unnecessary similarities end.
Let’s get the big questions out of the way first: Is The Conjuring 2 just a shoddily put together cash grab or just a remake of the first movie? No, definitely not. Wan treats the material with respect and makes sure the final cut is a proper, cohesive, movie. Is The Conjuring 2 scary? Yes, it is. There are many moments of legitimate, palpable tension. Some of the people I watched it with screamed and jumped at every scare, and the moments where the I was forced to sit and watch the tension rise and rise had me gripping the couch with white knuckles just waiting for whatever horror Wan had in store for us to reveal itself.
Now, the big question. Is The Conjuring 2 better than the first? In my opinion, no. I think The Conjuring is a modern horror masterpiece that subverted most of the audience’s expectations where I find the sequel to be a bit more formulaic. The Conjuring 2 leans more into the “mainstream horror” category. It’s not that being mainstream horror in itself is bad, it’s just that most of the current mainstream horror movies are less than stellar. The Conjuring 2 hits most of the same beats and scares that all the other paranormal and haunting horror movies these days do. Obviously, Wan is able to place these scares appropriately in the movie, ramping up the intensity of each scene until the audience is ready to pull their hair out, and then he waits a little more before slamming a scary face on screen with a big musical sting. The Conjuring 2 definitely relies a lot more on jump scares than the first, but none of them feel cheap or undeserved. Nobody just opens a cupboard door and WHAM, out pops a bloody face with blacked out eyes and mouth. A couple of the scares are lessened by some pretty bad CGI (shut up horror nerds, I know that The Crooked Man was played by horror movie icon Javier Botet, but you have to admit the sub-par CGI really took away from his performance), and when your new movie is literally double the budget of the last one in the franchise, I’d think you can splurge a little more on CGI that doesn’t look like it came from a PlayStation 2. All that being said, there are a handful of scenes that are just beautifully crafted pieces of horror cinema. Ask anyone who has seen this film what they thought about “the painting scene”, and I guarantee their response will only be a thousand yard stare followed by the word “Nope”.
So, if The Conjuring 2 is a kind of mainstream, kind of jump scare horror movie, then what does it have going for it that the first doesn’t? For me, the one aspect in this film that far exceeds its predecessor is the character development of Ed and Lorraine Warren. This movie clocks in at over twenty minutes longer than the first, and the time spent with the Warrens being wholesome family folk is time well spent in my opinion. We grow more deeply attached to them, and when the stakes are raised and the terror is on, we really root for them and hope they can pull through. Wilson and Farmiga have amazing chemistry together, and they feel like real, living people, which grounds the story when the tough challenges-whether demons or bad publicity-come knocking. James Wan also manages to create a fantastic opening scene that is way more memorable than the Annabelle intro in the first film. Both movies start with a scene dedicated to a different case, used to introduce the characters of Ed and Lorraine before the actual plot of the film starts. While the Annabelle intro to The Conjuring was pretty good and managed to spawn two spin off movies, the introduction to The Conjuring 2 was a total treat. The Warrens are investigating the Amityville murders, and the entire sequence oozes style. While it’s definitely shot in a way that I wouldn’t want to see for a whole feature film, having it in the first ten minutes of the movie set helps set the tone for what kind of things you’ll be in for.
I’ve been constantly been measuring The Conjuring 2 to the first movie’s standards because of how highly I regard 2013’s The Conjuring. So the final question I’ll ask myself and immediately answer is this: If this movie was called The Enfield Poltergeist rather than The Conjuring 2, and I has no idea James Wan directed, would I still think it was good? Yeah, I like to think so. The Conjuring 2 definitely has some flaws, but overall it’s still good. I think it’s not as well put together and original as its predecessor, but it manages to showcase some new things that I hadn’t realized I wanted out of a Conjuring movie. I would recommend The Conjuring 2 to anyone who likes mainstream horror movies, even if you aren’t a huge fan of jump scares. I hate jump scares with a burning passion, but a lot of them still worked for me in this film.If you’re into artsier, weirder horror, you might get a kick out of Wan’s cinematography, but not much past that. The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 definitely make great choices for a double feature scary movie night with friends or movies to help get some of your non-horror friends into the genre (ed.note–or maybe terrify them away from ever watching any movie with you ever again).