Movie Review - The Conjuring 2

It might be a tad premature, but James Wan is a name that should be added to the pantheon of great directors of horror. Yes, Wan is on his way to becoming the next John Carpenter and Wes Craven. Wan has previously worked with great premises or twisted ideas, i.e. Saw (2004). This time, it's less about the ideas or the premise. It's more about the performances and the cinematography, as was the case with the first film. Wan proved with the first film that he is fantastic with a camera. He knows where to place it and how to move it with such brilliance. Wan also has cast such great actors. He can lean on them more than other horror films can, but not only does his two leads carry a load, the rest of the actors are so good that even without the two movie stars, the film can still boast amazing performances.

Essentially, the movie does have a familiar premise. It's basically a haunted house movie. It's about ghosts and spirits. There's echoes of such films of yesteryear like Poltergeist (1982). Arguably, Wan references such films but none more directly than The Amityville Horror (1979). In fact, the movie opens in Amityville, 1976. If one doesn't know, Amityville is a village on Long Island, New York. The home inhabited by the Lutz family has since become the most famous, real-life case of a haunted house in the United States' history.

The Lutz family abandoned the home only a month after first moving into it because of strange and scary occurrences that severely threatened them. Even before the Lutz family lived there, the home was infamous because it was the site of a mass murder. Ronnie DeFeo in fact killed his entire family as they slept in that Amityville home.

This movie begins with depicting those murders. If you've seen films like My Amityville Horror, a documentary about one of the Lutz children, there is some question about if the DeFeo murders were the source or a contributing factor to the haunting. Wan's film seems to take the position that the DeFeo murders were a factor.

Oscar-nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air and The Departed) stars as Lorraine Warren, a very religious woman who belongs to the Catholic Church. She works as a medium or psychic. She can sense the presence of ghosts or supernatural forces and can basically commune with the dead. She's married and has a daughter.

Patrick Wilson (Watchmen and Insidious) co-stars as Ed Warren, the husband of Lorraine and father to her daughter. He also belongs to the Catholic Church. He's an agent of the church in some regard. He's a man of strong faith, but he investigates paranormal cases on the church's behalf, determining if reports of ghosts are real or not. He doesn't have any powers, but he's very much in touch and trusting of his wife.

And, what this movie gets right is the relationship between Lorraine and Ed. The love and concern they have for each other is great. How they support each other is also well depicted. How they work with each other! Lorraine is such a strong woman but her closeness to the demonic is having an effect on her. It's taking a toll. Ed is charming and has a definite braveness, as confidence. It's interesting to watch them both, and both Farmiga and Wilson slip into these characters so well and win the audience over almost effortlessly.

Despite the familiar premise and familiar tropes, the performances from Farmiga and Wilson help tremendously, but, like the first film, equal weight and time are given to the actors playing the haunted family. Here, we go to London, England, and a small neighborhood called Enfield in December 1977. Instead of the Lutz family, we get the Hodgson family, consisting of a single mother, Peggy, and her four children. There are two girls, Margaret and Janet, and two boys, Johnny and Billy. All of them experience strange and scary occurrences, but the main focus is on Janet Hodgson, played by Madison Wolfe. Janet bears a lot of the brunt because, like Lorraine, Janet might be psychic too.

Recognizable tropes, as ones you might see in Poltergeist or The Exorcist (1973), are present, but the way Wan wields his camera and stages some of the more terrifying scenes is extremely well done. Whereas Wan has had particular success with creepy dolls, this film does wonders with a rocking chair. Yes, you might not look at an old rocking chair the same way again. Other than that, there are two scenes that were especially effective.

One was Ed talking to the ghost in question, Bill Wilkins, nicknamed the "Crooked Man." Ed speaks with his back to Bill. Ed is in the foreground and the so-called ghost is in the background but blurred so that his reality isn't certain. It's a well-framed and well-executed scene.

The other effective scene was Lorraine being haunted by an evil spirit in her own home. Similar to the aforementioned scene, Lorraine is in the foreground and the so-called ghost is in the background but blurred so that you don't know if it's there or not. Wan does a great job of playing with perspective and using the camera to play with the eye and trick you. Is it there or not?

The camerawork was the best feature of the first film. This time around, the cinematography isn't as flashy or outstanding, but still Wan puts his stamp on it. That along with the surprising moments of charm and humor make this a highly entertaining movie. I particularly liked Ed's Elvis Presley impersonation. I also liked the inclusion of documentary footage of the Hodgson's case at the end was haunting in that it reminds us that there is a possibility that all of this could be true.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for terror and horror violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 13 mins.


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