Having thankfully exorcised his want to make action films with Furious 7, director James Wan returns to the genre that made him wanted by Hollywood in the first place, and one in which he excels. His experience on that blockbuster seems to have pushed him to be more ambitious, the result being The Conjuring 2, an effectively frightening but somewhat lengthy follow-up to his 2013 horror hit about real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Wan opens the film in 1976 with the Warrens’ version of their involvement in the investigation of the infamous 1974 Amityville haunting (which made them famous). A year later, the local church asks them to help it investigate a possible paranormal situation in Enfield, England, in which a mother and her four children have claimed to be besieged by the malevolent spirit of an elderly man who lived and died in their house.
If anything, Wan means the film to be his Exorcist — that is, a classy effort about three-dimensional people dealing with the unimaginable — versus just some scary movie about an entity stalking a group of photogenic millennials. I would say he succeeds at this, as the Warrens do come to seem like normal folks who happen to have paranormal visions and battle demons, and the British family a typical family enduring dad-leaving and bullying and money woes.
Wan and his three co-screenwriters also address the real-life issue that was many people believing that what the Warrens did was a sham, and that the British family in question was just trying to get attention and money. As such we get Franke Potente (Run Lola Run) as a real-life parapsychologist who actually makes a good case for how the family is faking all of this, though on a cinematic level her explanations make her a villain in light of what Wan depicts.
And a lot of what Wan depicts will definitely scare you, mainly early on as he gradually introduces horror to the family — voices in the dark, a toy fire engine moving around, a TV remote being where it shouldn’t. Later, he brings to terrifying life a figure from the children’s zoetrope. In the film’s most chilling (and skillfully shot) scene, Patrick Wilson, as Ed Warren, speaks to the elderly-man ghost via one of the family’s girls, with Wilson in focus, the girl out of focus.
All the better-than-your-typical-horror-film character development, however, results in a prolonged 134-minute running time. As good as Wan is at creating sustained tension, there are only so many times and ways he can do it successfully. The film falls into a diminishing-returns pattern of having the spirit do scary stuff, the Warrens beating him back, the characters acting as if everything is normal, and then being shocked when the spirit does something scary again.
This doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the solid work done by the cast. Vera Farmiga, as Lorraine Warren, shows us a compassionate woman weary of seeing what she can see, while Wilson shines as he performs an Elvis song for the beleaguered British children and gazes lovingly at Farmiga. Madison Wolfe, though, is due some sort of award as the girl through whom the old man speaks. She both earns your sympathy, and raises the hairs on the back of your neck. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 9/15/16