40. The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring is one of my two favorite scary movies (along with The Ring).  It was not only a great scary movie, but it was a great movie, period, regardless of genre.  The performances, the directing, the story, and how everything connected all worked to create a tight, compelling film that was made all the more intriguing by the fact that it was based on a true story.  It stood out from the pack when it came to other horror films at the time, grossing $318 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.

Plus, it was terrifying.

So, The Conjuring 2 has been one of my most-anticipated films of 2016.  Wisely continuing with famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren’s real-life cases, the film also marks horror director James Wan’s return to the genre (and The Conjuring) after taking a break and directing Furious 7.

And I’m so glad to have him back.  While The Conjuring is forced to duke it out with The Ring for the title of my Favorite Scary Movie, The Conjuring and its franchise now has one leg up on that of The Ring: its sequel.  I sit here without hesitation and proclaim that The Conjuring 2 is the greatest horror sequel I’ve ever seen.

And, oh yes . . . it’s terrifying.

This franchise has so much going for it that really allows it to stand head-and-shoulders above any and all other current horror franchises.  Sure, there’s James Wan, but other horror movies have him, too.  One of the defining characteristics of this film series is that, as I mentioned earlier, it’s entirely based on true stories.  I’ll be anxious to hopefully hear what Lorraine Warren thinks about this sequel (Ed Warren passed away nearly ten years ago) but, according to her, the original film is pretty much a direct retelling of that particular case.  I lean towards believing that Wan and crew would have taken the same approach to this one.

Being that these movies are based on unique cases, The Conjuring 2 feels fresh, despite technically being a sequel.  And, of course, it is a sequel, but only in the sense that the Warrens are the main protagonists of both films.  The stories, setting, supporting casts, and antagonists are all new for the audience, so it doesn’t feel like retread ground.

Another aspect of The Conjuring 2 (and the original, but I’m going to try and focus on this specific film, from this point on), that puts it on a pedestal is its attention to character.  Nearly all horror films, past and present, put the focus on the villain and set up the regular people to be dispensable collateral damage.  Many even craft their stories in such a way that the audience roots for the villain and can’t wait to see the people bite it.  This is backwards.

A truly great horror film will do two things: 1) tell the audience as much as possible about the people and 2) tell the audience as little as possible about the villain(s).  If the audience doesn’t know the protagonists, then there’s no reason to invest in the film.  And if the audience knows too much about the villain, then they become humanized and there’s no reason to fear them.  The Conjuring 2 strikes this balance beautifully and even brilliantly.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are the heart, soul, and life of this film.  Both have become two of the most consistent and dependable hands in Hollywood and after watching The Conjuring 2, it’s obvious why.  They dance elegantly through the film, effortlessly switching between caring parental types with a delicate touch and a balanced bedside manner and fiercely determined warriors who refuse to quit in the face of mind-breaking terrors.  They infuse Ed and Lorraine with a mature sense of resigned responsibility, knowing that what they do is the most dangerous job anyone could ever have . . . but that they’re the best at it and, therefore, they must do it, anyway.  Best of all, Ed and Lorraine are clearly in this line of work for the right reasons: to help people.  This is made perfectly clear through the scripted actions and dialogue as well as the subtleties in Wilson and Farmiga’s performances.  There’s a scene that addresses this directly (though there’s another purpose behind that scene) but if you’re paying attention the whole time, it’s obvious long before that point in the film.  Ed and Lorraine are perfect protagonists and they’ve been perfectly cast.

Now don’t get the idea that The Conjuring 2 is a two-hour talk-fest.  Quality time is spent developing the characters and the story but the film is also thrilling and chilling from beginning to end.  The pace and timing is spot-on, never going too long without reminding you that you’re watching a horror film.  Predictable tropes are sacrificed to the altar of Annabelle as scares come at times and in ways that the audience isn’t expecting.  As I was watching it, one scene in particular made me think two things.  “This is the most frightening scene I’ve ever seen in a movie.”  That was followed by, “Well, I’m going to have to watch about four full seasons of Seinfeld before I can go to sleep, tonight.”

The visuals, the shot composition, the music, the creature design, and the performances all combine to create a scare-filled atmosphere that plays on both the audience’s own personal fears as well as their empathy and concern for the characters that they’ve come to know and care about.  At times, it becomes so thrilling that it almost (almost) feels like a horror/action hybrid.  It stops short of that, coming just close enough to elevate the blood pressure and create urgency without compromising the film and audience expectations.

The Conjuring 2 is expertly crafted in every way.  The series is now two-for-two in delivering films that are – as I said earlier – not only great horror films, but great films, period.  I now have three movies in the running for my favorite scary movie of all time but, with two of them being from the same franchise, I have only one favorite horror series.  I see horror film after horror film, often liking them just fine, but always hoping for – and rarely getting – this kind of experience.  The Conjuring 2 delivers everything I look for in horror.  I hope there’s lots more to come.

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