DIR: James Wan • WRI: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson • PRO: Rob Cowan, Peter Safran, James Wan • DOP: Don Burgess • ED: Kirk M. Morri • MUS: Joseph Bishara • DES: Julie Berghoff • CAST:Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon Delaney
Let’s be honest; a good horror film will make you cling to your seat in grim anticipation, but a great horror film doesn’t begin to affect you until after you’ve left the cinema. You know, that moment after you’ve turned the lights out and are lying in bed when suddenly the images that have been lying in wait leap forward from your short-term memory and leave you afraid to close your eyes, lest the monster has broken free from the silver screen and stalked you home. Unlike other cinematic genres, horror is so much more about the build-up then the actual climax which is why many films falter in the third act. When the monster is finally revealed, frightening as their design may be, all sense of the unknown is lost and with it the films hold over the audience. So, does James Wan’s follow-up 2013’s The Conjuring fall into any of these pit-traps? Is it a great horror film? Yes and no.
After a facing off with a particular nasty demon at the Amityville Horror home, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) convinces her reluctant husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) that they need to take a break from paranormal cases for a while, fearing for both their safety and peace of mind. This hiatus doesn’t last long however as the couple soon find themselves being sent by the church to Enfield, London to investigate claims of unexplained occurrences. There they find frazzled single mother of four Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) doing her best to protect her children from the malicious entity that has taken over their home, which seems to have taken a particular interest in 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe). But is everything as it seems? Is the Hodgson family truly being plagued by a nefarious spirit, or is it all an elaborate hoax to gain attention?
Wan has previously proven himself capable of utilising the best elements of the ‘haunted house’ narrative- the disembodied footsteps, the strange knocking sounds, door hinges squeaking- to their best advantage, injecting some genuine thrills into what would have been an otherwise trite experience in the hands of a less skilled director. There is a consistent atmosphere of dread perpetuated throughout the film, like a weight being placed on the audience member’s chest, as things quickly escalate from bad to worse. It is due to this carefully constructed ambience that the occasional cheap tricks that Wan does employ, namely jump-scares, hold more of a punch. The problem is that, at over two hours long, events begin to err on the side of predictable which, chilling atmosphere or not, usually spells death in terms of audience engagement. By the time we reach the rather lacklustre climax the story seems already burnt-out.
The non-horror elements of the film also suffer from smatterings of clunky writing and misplaced humour. The Warren’s devotion to one another was satisfactorily set-up in the first film and in the beginning of this one, but subsequent dialogue between the two rings unnecessarily soppy. They’re not just in love, you guys, they’re super in love. But the biggest drawback facing the film is the monster itself. This is a common complaint of many horror films and it’s easy to see why- after all that build-up, what could possibly meet the audience’s expectations? The problem this film faces is an unusual one, in that the monster in question has several incarnations where one would have been sufficient. Only one of the monster’s designs is truly terrifying (I know I’ll be seeing that face in my nightmares for the next while), while the other two will more likely leave you giggling at their absurdness rather than cowering in fear. The saying is true, less can be more!
It’s true that The Conjuring 2 is not a great horror film, but it’s still a pretty decent one. Wan masterfully takes the tried and true tropes of the genre and manages to make them exciting again, which in itself is pretty impressive. Will you continue to be haunted by the images on screen for years to come? Eh, probably not, but maybe sleep with the lights for a little while – just to be safe.
15A (See IFCO for details)
The Conjuring 2 is released 13th June 2016