Before stepping into direct blockbusters like Furious 7 or the upcoming Aquaman, James Wan came to prominence as being one of the preeminent horror filmmakers working with films like Insidious and The Conjuring. Between his massive studio tentpoles, Wan has found the time cram out another piece of terror for audiences with his sequel, The Conjuring 2. Impressively, The Conjuring 2 features its fair share of scares in an overly long sequel to the 2013 hit that is “based on a true story.” The film is simply another reminder that Wan’s talents aren’t merely limited to genre films and that his talent is truly undeniable.
Since the events of the last film, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) have continued their work investigating the paranormal, including a harrowing stop off in Amityville, New York on a story that would become a media sensation. The unrelenting scrutiny and skepticism they face leaves them yearning for a break. Meanwhile, across the pond in London, the Hodgson family tries to scrape by another day. A single mother, Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) tries to do her best raising her four kids, Janet (Madison Wolfe), Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Billy (Benjamin Haigh), and Johnny (Patrick McAuley). Of course, it’s not long before the Hodgson family is confronted with dark spirits haunting their home, placing its nefarious focus on the young Janet.
The supernatural events are witnessed by local police and neighbors, and eventually the claims of a haunting are investigated by Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney), a paranormal investigator, and Anita Gregory (Franka Potente), a skeptic searching for clues that the events are a hoax. After a bit of media attention, the tale of the events haunting the Hodgson family find their way to the home of the Warrens, and they’re sent to London to observe and report their findings to the Vatican.
The Conjuring 2 works best in its moments of horror. James Wan plays the audience like a fiddle. A seasoned horror vet, Wan knows what audiences are looking for and is obviously having a blast subverting their expectations and then – wham! The director doesn’t merely rely on jump scares, he creates an atmospheric sense of unease with the textured sets and unsettling tone. The jolts are effective and, frankly, quite fun.
All of the great moments of horror that fills up The Conjuring 2 still can’t justify the film’s bloated length. Running well over two hours, The Conjuring 2 tries to tackle too much instead of streamlining its terror. The script from Wan, David Leslie Johnson, along with Chad and Carey Hayes tries to bite off too much. For example, the whole Amityville segment really doesn’t serve much of a purpose aside from taking viewers to the scene of a famous haunting covered in other movies. The story arc of the Warrens doesn’t really hold up over the course of the film, with Lorraine having had a vision of Ed’s death – that’s really their great struggle. However, it’s the struggle of the Hodgsons that works incredibly well, and is buoyed by a fine performance from the young Madison Wolfe.
In a summer brimming with unnecessary and ineffective sequels, The Conjuring 2 has enough moments that work incredibly well despite the film’s larger flaws. Of course, claiming that these events are “based on a true story” is a continuation of the genre’s gimmickry, presenting story of supernatural as indisputable fact. Even when The Conjuring 2 is falters with its excessive running time, an excellent moment that’ll raise your heart rate is right around the corner. James Wan is among the greats working the horror genre these days, and his playful sensibilities keep the film engaging even moments that are unnecessary. The Conjuring 2 may not rank among the great horror sequels, but it’s certainly a good one. It builds upon the original, stands on its own, and gives the audience exactly what it came for.