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Friday, June 10, 2016

The Conjuring 2

Another crummy horror sequel? Maybe not!

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Lorraine and Ed Warren are called out of semi-retirement to investigate a case in England where a single mother and her four children are plagued by what seems to be the ghost of the house's former owner.

What we thought

To date, the Conjuring has been the best of James Wan's horror oeuvre (I still enjoy the deliriously nutty Fast and Furious 7 the most of all his films, though) and its sequel pretty easily lives up to its predecessor. Once again, the cliches of Wan's work do occasionally grate (is there anything more predictable than a James Wan jump scare?) but it's otherwise a really solid, nicely creepy little haunted house flick that easily stands out from a crowded and more often than not disappointing crowd.

Once again, a big part of the Conjuring 2's appeal is in its real-world origins. Whether you believe in ghosts, demos and other paranormal phenomena or not is up to you but even if the real case of the Einfeld Poltergeist was a complete hoax, it was at least convincing enough to draw plenty of attention from a number of “experts”. And that's without the high body-count of the Amityville Horror – the events of which actually take place between the end of the last movie and well into the beginning of this one. It also helps that ghosts are unquestionably the most believable horror staple, simply by virtue of death being, as William Shakespeare put it, the “undiscovered country”.

Beyond the case itself, the Conjuring 2 is just a superior piece of modern horror cinema. Its decidedly extravagant 135-minute running time is used to deliver a slow-burn that, an occasional silly jump scare aside (Wan really can't help himself), works off atmosphere and a growing sense of unease rather than the action-lite “thrills” of many a bad modern horror movie. Indeed, the full on thrills only come in with the final act but, if they work at all – and they more or less do – it's precisely because of what precedes them.

And just because the Conjuring 2 takes its time doesn't mean that it's anywhere near as soul-crushingly boring as something like the Paranormal Activity. The Einfeld Poltergeist is a genuinely fascinating case so the story itself is enough to keep you going but the film also goes through the trouble of giving us characters that we actually care about and who are largely very well acted – with Madison Wolfe, who plays Janet Hodgson, the young girl at the heart of the haunting, being particularly impressive. That she's playing the main character in the upcoming adaptation of one of my all time favourite graphic novels, I Kill Giants, gives me some hope that the film might actually do it justice.

Now, with all that said, is the Conjuring 2 actually scary? To be honest, it didn't particularly scare me but horror films of this sort, despite being easily my favourite of the genre, usually don't. It did, however, at least unsettle me somewhat and I'm pretty sure that those who haven't seen many horror films or are more easily scared by them, will be more than sufficiently terrorized (but, ya know, in a good way).

As for me, it's more than enough that this is a horror film that is actually solidly written, acted and directed and, despite my lack of patience for super obvious quite-quite-boo jump-scares, I would easily take it over torture porn or found-footage trash any day of the week. It ain't exactly the Exorcist (though it is even more Christian) but if more horror films were this solidly made and this enjoyably creepy, I would despair less about the current state of the genre than I usually do.

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