Movie Review: ‘THE CONJURING 2’ manifests the spirit of classic haunting movies

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

THE CONJURING 2 | 133 min | R
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison WolfeFrances O’ConnorSimon McBurney and Franka Potente

It’s no secret that Hollywood has become vastly dependent on the sequel. Whether the movie-going audience wants them or not, if the first installment makes over $100 million, you could bet dollars to donuts that a sequel will follow somehow. In the months of June/July alone, there are nine sequels getting released. NINE!

Because the Hollywood machine looks to strike while the iron is hot, once the screenplay is written, it’ll go into production immediately so they can get that money. It is here where the material will more often than not weaken the film. The usual rush means that any sort of clarification in storytelling is overlooked because it can easily be glossed over with something else (i.e. visual effects, makeup, etc.). For example, while ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is remarkable to look at, flaws that could’ve been easily corrected still showed in the final product.

It’s because of this, as well as the constant bombardment of follow-ups and remakes, that people are getting a little impatient with sequels being favored over original content at the cineplexes. In order to sort of skew this downhill slope, it’s important that a sequel be made on par with its predecessor…not relying on what worked at face value or chalking it up to a characteristic of the genre.

So when the announcement for THE CONJURING 2 got released, everyone was either excited or weary. Would it be a worthy follow-up? Or just another clear example that Hollywood went for a cash grab?

It’s safe to say that THE CONJURING 2 is worthy, and, in some areas, superior.

When we last left Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), they had just relieved the Perron family of their spiritual menace. The movie does wise to re-establish their notoriety at the start, using the Amityville case as a means to give further background to the Warrens. Yes, this is the case that made them famous, but it’s also where Lorraine gains her fear of a foreboding terror.

Flash forward years later, and the Warrens have pretty much retired from the paranormal investigation business, at the request of Lorraine, as she is continuously haunted by Amityville. However, on the other side of the pond, in the town of Enfield, England, another case will beckon them back to their calling.

The Hodgsons are a poor, broken family, with their single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) struggling to hold it together. Her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) is coming into her independence on the precipice of adolescence. So much so, that she has been playing with a makeshift Ouija board that she made. Things start going bump in the night, and before long the family needs help…they need Ed & Lorraine.

Madison Wolfe is Janet Hodgson in THE CONJURING 2. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Madison Wolfe is Janet Hodgson in THE CONJURING 2. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

There are several ways that director James Wan shows improvement from THE CONJURING. From the Amityville sequence, he establishes the camera as a part of the story. A long take as they set up a séance, Wan lets the camera float through the house away from the Warrens, eventually setting on Lorraine as a sign of stability. Making the camera feel like a character helps the audience anticipate what’s natural and what’s supernatural.

Furthermore, there is subtext within the plot that revolves around Lorraine and Janet. Lorraine’s haunting is in the form of a nun, taking shape as something to make her doubt her gift as well as her faith. It followed her from Amityville, and with its presence, along with certain scenes where their work is doubted, and there is a constant face of doubt hovering over Lorraine, with Ed there as her strength.

Janet’s is more intriguing: We are introduced to her from a montage of that era’s events in British government, set to The Clash’s “London Calling”; then, shows Janet cutting class with a cigarette, being called a “lesbo”, followed by another rebellious song as her and her siblings get home to a poor part of London. It’s a clear establishment of what Janet’s growing independence will struggle against as their family is haunted by an elderly patriarch, constantly referencing “his house”. In other words, the British lower class rebelling out of oppression from PM Thatcher and the elderly parliament.

That being said, there were some minor things that kept building throughout the movie to weigh it down. Ed and Lorraine repeat themselves in certain instances, or blatantly explain what is happening in the story. Also, the acting is all over the place, going from natural to shaky; for example, the youngest Hodgson has a stutter that sounds incredibly forced. There could’ve been some further editing to the film, so it wouldn’t lull; at one point, there is a scene in the third act that is cringe-worthy in its melodramatics, but is saved by the spectacular finale.

Is THE CONJURING 2 a better movie than its predecessor? More often than not, yes it is. It has a lot more going for its production and presentation, regardless of its minor flaws. Hopefully, it finds as much success as the first movie, so Hollywood can understand that there is a way to make a sequel that audiences will want to watch, rather than just making them pay for it.

THE CONJURING 2 opens in participating early showings tonight, and everywhere tomorrow.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.