Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Franka Potente, Bob Adrian | Written by Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson | Directed by James Wan
The term “master of horror” is one that gets thrown around a little too loosely sometimes, but there are a precious few filmmakers who very much embody that prestigious label. If he didn’t achieve that status prior to 2013, James Wan sure did with the release of The Conjuring. The film, touted by many as Wan’s masterpiece, was indeed quite masterful, and with it the Aussie filmmaker brilliantly set the stage for a franchise built around the case files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
In the wake of spinoff film Annabelle, the Warrens are back.
Written by Carey Hayes and Chad Hayes, along with Wan and David Leslie Johnson, and directed by Wan, The Conjuring 2 transports Ed and Lorraine to a small council house in Enfield, London. When they learn that a single mother and her four children are being maliciously tormented by what appears to be a demonic entity, the Warrens reluctantly pack their bags. Inside the Hodgson home, they discover that something very sinister has attached itself to youngest daughter Janet – and it’s not letting go.
Hollywood horror has earned itself a pretty bum rap in recent years, and most fans have by now caught onto the fact that nothing on the big screen can really hold a candle to the gems being independently released onto VOD outlets. By the very nature of the Hollywood system, big screen horror simply needs to appeal to the masses, if only for the sake of the almighty dollar, and that need for mass appeal often comes at the expense of, well, quality horror films. But if there’s one thing that James Wan has continually proven over the years, it’s that Hollywood horror can have its cake and eat it too.
A master of making profitable horror movies that also happen to be of a very high quality, Wan’s respect for the genre has altogether elevated it to a higher place, and with The Conjuring 2, he once again reminds that Hollywood-made horror films can, with the right filmmakers behind the camera, be as good as we fondly remember them being in years gone by. The sequel to Wan’s franchise-starter is made with the same level of love, care, and respect that resulted in some of the greatest horror films of all time – films like Kubrick’s The Shining, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street – and if the first film was his masterpiece, then I guess that means this one must be something more.
The Conjuring 2 isn’t merely Wan’s masterpiece, it’s one of the great horror films of our time.
Turning up both the creativity and the terror, and tapping even deeper into the powerful emotional core that was found at the center of the 2013 box office hit, The Conjuring 2 is the rare horror sequel that manages to be even better than its predecessor. In the film, everything we love about James Wan’s work within the genre is amped up to eleven, and not only does he have us in the palm of his hand for the 2+ hour duration, but most importantly of all, he knows it. Few filmmakers have as much palpable fun scaring audiences as Wan does, and the way he moves the camera and orchestrates each of the film’s many extended scare sequences reminds that nobody right now is doing horror better than he.
Yes, The Conjuring 2 is an effectively terrifying film, but what really makes it this year’s best – thus far, though I can’t imagine anything topping it – is just how much heart is packed into it. Like the first film, the focus is placed not solely on the family in peril but perhaps even moreso on Ed and Lorraine Warren, and Wan’s deep affection for those characters bleeds through even stronger this time around – as does the understanding that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga clearly have for what makes them tick. Rather brilliantly, a key piece of info that we weren’t privy to in The Conjuring is used as a way to add even more gravitas to their relationship, and if you find yourself getting choked up on occasion, you’re not alone. Rarely do horror movies care THIS much about their characters, and it goes a long way.
As for the Hodgson family, it’s the plight of young Janet Hodgson that is mostly spotlighted, and actress Madison Wolfe more than holds her own against veterans like Wilson and Farmiga. Watching the character navigate a handful of terrifying situations, it’s impossible to not feel scared for her and hope like hell that she comes out of the whole thing unscathed, and the experience is so immersive that you might catch yourself forgetting that no one is really in danger here. It’s only a movie, after all, but when horror is this effective, you can’t help but become seat-grippingly invested in every moment.
Watching The Conjuring 2, I mostly found myself in awe of the whole thing. In awe of how good James Wan is at executing a scare, and in awe of just how much he was able to make me feel. I was also struck with the realization that I’m lucky enough to be alive at a time when one of the all-time great horror filmmakers is at the very top of his game, which is something pretty special when you think about it.
The bar for horror sequels has just been raised.
Hell, the bar for all horror films has just been raised.