‘The Conjuring 2’ is a tense but muted continuation of its predecessor

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 11:39am

NOSELL

Warner Bros. Pictures

 

When looking for someone to see “The Conjuring 2” with me, I kept getting the same response: “I don’t do horror movies.” By nature of the film being in the horror genre, people didn’t want to see it. I don’t consider myself to be a “horror-movie person” either. Still, when I watched “The Conjuring” on a random night on HBO, I was engrossed. It was a well-made movie that not only scared, but impressed with its technical work and storytelling. It’s the type of movie that, even if I’m not a horror fan, I could still appreciate it. The sequel’s ghost story, released three years after the first one, doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the first one, but it still maintained the same cinematic quality that made the first one such an engaging watch.

“The Conjuring 2” again follows Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, “A Gifted Man” and Vera Farmiga, “Bates Motel”), who this time travel to England to investigate eerie events happening in a London house. Members of the Hodgson family are being terrorized by an evil spirit, who takes possession of their daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe, “True Detective”).

It’s in its story where “The Conjuring 2” falters a bit, as it struggles with its character work amid a ghost story that isn’t quite as chilling as the first. In this iteration, the franchise puts more of a focus on the Warrens, as if they realized they needed to build up the characters if they’re going to be the focus of the franchise. Only some of that characterization worked. The film cleverly interplays a ghost haunting Lorraine with the Enfield spirit, but when the focus turns to the Warren’s romance, the story stops dead in its tracks. Moments that are supposed to come off as romantic feel out-of-place with the tone of other scenes in the film. Wilson and Farmiga try their hardest, but they still aren’t able to sell these scenes.

Still, “The Conjuring 2” features scares enhanced by James Wan’s remarkable sense of horror filmmaking. Wan utilizes the tension and release method of horror filmmaking to his full advantage, letting scenes breathe. He doesn’t force moments of horror where they don’t belong, instead letting scenes breathe. There’s also no gratuitous blood and gore that makes other horror movies so tough to watch. Instead, he relies on tried-and-true jump scares. These elements make the moments where he chooses to scare you that much more powerful. He also puts an eerie look on the film, with a dark filter applied over pretty much every shot, especially when inside the house. “The Conjuring 2” is a master class in how horror filmmaking can, and should, be done.

And yet, despite the same quality of scary moments, “The Conjuring 2”’s story didn’t play quite as well as the first iteration. The ghosts were more present on-screen than in the predecessor, causing a subtle loss in the tension, but saying it’s slightly worse than an impressive movie isn’t meant to be a huge criticism. Thanks to Wan, the sequel still had many of the elements that made the first film so spine-chilling, and in this case, that’s just enough.