The Conjuring 2/4 Palm Trees
by Eduardo Victoria/[email protected]
The Conjuring 2 finds Wan picking up right where he left off, proving that his greatest achievement on the first film was not just its scares, but his ability to turn the Warrens into two genre heroes we truly love and care about. Digging deeper into their relationship as they heroically put themselves on the line for a family in need, this is the rare kind of film that is good because it’s a sequel, building off of an already strong foundation and allowing it to truly thrive.
During the Amityville investigations, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) receives a horrifying premonition. It’s so shocking that she’s convinced that her and her husband, Ed (Patrick Wilson), should quit their studies for the time being. He reluctantly agrees, and the two resign to writing and talking about their experiences instead. Across the pond, in Enfield, England, is single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children. In the wake of their father’s departure, the family is tight knit and doing the best they can to get by, but the absence is noticeable. Things get worse when a series of malevolent phenomena begin to occur, tormenting the children at night, and specifically targeting one of the younger siblings, Janet (Madison Wolfe).
Though the film sticks to the format that made its predecessor so great, Wan’s return feels laced with a new sense of vibrancy and vigor, building his conflict from the root of each family’s trials and presenting scares which target them not just physically, but emotionally. Wan again takes his time to fully develop the relationships at the film’s center so that when things go bad, we’re rooting for people that we care about. Almost every person in the huge ensemble gets a moment to shine, whether it’s a small moment of kindness or an act of heroism. In sharp contrast to most horror films now, there are no bad people here – everyone genuinely wants to help out, making the film’s demonic presence scarier than a knee-jerk reaction because we feel the humanity that’s at stake.
Wan’s visuals are more ambitious this time as well, and I’m pretty sure that if Hitchcock ever directed a true-blue monster movie, it would look like this. Wan and his cinematographer Don Burgess are on fire, expertly playing with audience expectation through longer, more precise sequences that are wildly diverse and escalate with ingenuity and urgency. Wan moves his camera through the Hodgson house with acrobatic verve, spinning in and around his characters and their surroundings to engage the viewer in a dance of tension and terror. Though jump scares are still prevalent, there’s more subtlety and nuance, allowing for shadows to harbor danger or misdirect us into a larger threat, while small, eerie details present themselves only to return when we least expect
With such a huge focus on character, the performances stand head-to-head with Wan’s technical prowess. Headlining the entire thing again, are Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren, respectively. As Lorraine, Farmiga anchors the group with an internal performance that embodies the film’s tension and heart. She’s a caring woman who is strong-willed and out to do her best, even if the burden is heavy. Wilson’s Ed gets a bit of a meatier role this time out, presenting a man who is deeply connected with his feelings, giving the film an exploration of faith, sacrifice and strength without devolving into a generic alpha.
From the great characters to the immaculately crafted thrills, The Conjuring 2 is a home run from top to bottom. It’s a film that show’s Wan’s talent for knowing exactly how to subvert and cater to audience expectation, while also proving that mainstream horror can still be prestigious, accessible and scary. Whereas most horror sequels can’t figure out where to go and struggle with reinvention or extensive retcons, this is a film that is confident and assured, building characters that are compelling enough to keep returning to time and again.
Now playing at Cinemark Downtown 10. Rated R. 133 minutes.