A good horror film is as rare as a traffic-free drive in Los Angeles. So when such a film arrives, it should be embraced. But be careful how tightly you hold on because it just might lead to a sleepless night in which every shadow and creak in your home is a death omen. If you dare, “The Conjuring 2” is just the spook-fest you need, or the nightmare you dread depending on your constitution.
We once again enter the fictionalized paranormal investigations of the Warren family, the real-life paranormal couple who researched the “Amityville Horror” house in 1976. Because of that Amityville work, in the film, clairvoyant Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and demonologist Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) have become celebrities, often invited to speak on television shows about the existence of ghosts and demons. Unfortunately, they always find themselves on the defensive, arguing the merits of their work with a pretentious, doubting scholar rather than warning the public that evil is real and ready to pounce if anyone’s spiritual or emotional guard is down.
The Warrens haven’t just made a name for themselves on camera though. Evil entities are also aware of their presence, particularly one Lorraine encountered years ago during a psychic encounter at Amityville. Dressed as a nun, this demon (played by Bonnie Aarons) continually taunts Lorraine and threatens her about Ed’s impending doom. So Lorraine puts the family business on hold – that is, until the Catholic Church comes to them with a new problem.
In England, the Hodgson family faces an unhappy house guest – an apparition unhappy with their living arrangement. So it terrorizes the children, focusing much of its attention on 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe). The Catholic Church wishes to get involved, but a media frenzy surrounds the family, so any church presence might get wrapped into the hype of the Enfield Poltergeist (another actual event … loosely).
The Warrens are asked to check things out, cautiously determining if any paranormal activity is actually happening. If not, the church wants to distance itself from the circus. A problem then develops: Lorraine can’t sense any presence in the house. No evidence supports any claim that this is anything other than a hoax. If there is something demonic at play, the creature’s purpose is much darker and more ominous than anyone knows.
James Wan (“Furious Seven”) is a master director of horror films. He might’ve started with the slasher “Saw,” but he weaves quite a jumping tale in all his ghostly contributions. “The Conjuring” films are his opus in a genre he knows well. Rather than focus on merely an exorcism or angry spirits, he likes to combine all the best parts of such stories, resulting in something that’s both an homage to all the greats and a frightful film on its own.
True, it’s difficult to top “The Conjuring’s” hide-and-clap sequence (I still don’t clap at night because of it), but “The Conjuring 2” is jump-horror of the most refined kind. If you love a good scare, this one has everything you need. Everything down to young Wolfe’s creepy performance as victim and possessed girl. It’s always a child that haunts us all.
Even better, “The Conjuring 2” refuses to be a stand-alone film, unrelated to its predecessor. It builds on the Warren family dynamic and expands the rules of our world’s connection to the other side. The story mixes the formula of these films with a deeper mystery, a compelling plot with turns all the way to the credits.
Perhaps what makes both “Conjuring” films so special is their focus on family. The Warrens must intercede for the sake of parents and children left defenseless. They become a part of the family in the process of fending off evil.
Heart, that’s what makes a good horror film apparently. It’s not just jolting moments or some asinine twist that undermines the entire film. It’s the heart of the filmmakers, the concern for story. Good horror is just plain good filmmaking. Quick, someone spread the word.
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