Monday, July 11, 2016

The Conjuring 2 Review

A huge improvement over the original.

When the original The Conjuring movie came out in 2013, I was... less than impressed. Hell, I disliked it so much that I even put it on my worst of the year list for 2013. Was I perhaps a bit too harsh on it? In my opinion, no I don't think so.

See, the reason why I didn't like The Conjuring was that it did so many tricks that I've seen before. The movie was all about a haunted house with an evil spirit possessing a family, but nothing about the movie felt fresh or original to me. I know that saying that might seem a bit groan worthy because of the nature of horror movies, a genre entirely built on recycling the same tools that audiences will fall for again and again, but the good horror movies can make you fall for those tricks even if you should know better. There's a difference between watching a horror movie and knowing that something is going to pop out and scare you and watching a horror movie where even though you know that something is going to pop out and go boo, you're so invested that you don't realize it until the scare has already happened.

That's the difference between the first and second Conjuring movie. I could always tell when I was going to be scared by The Conjuring, but The Conjuring 2 still scared me even when I should have known better. And I can respect it for that.

Our sequel takes place several years after the first movie where our two paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, are whisked away to England to investigate an evil spirit possessing a 10 year old girl while also trying to determine whether or not the spirit actually exists, or is merely a hoax. Meanwhile, Lorraine is also dealing with an evil spirit that attached itself to her after she investigated the Amityville House, so now two evil spirits are mixing together to make an even more fearsome supernatural time bomb that needs to be fixed before an innocent girl is killed because of it.

If The Witch is experimental horror and The Purge: Election Year is horror shlock, then The Conjuring 2 is firmly established in classic horror tropes. There's a monster, normal people reacting to it, but it all feels realistic and genuine. There's no winking to the camera that something is too crazy to be real or the ghosts making crazy one-liners to the cast to scare them. Here, it's all about the atmosphere and tone with some really great and chilling moments throughout. Yes, some of the scares are jump scares, but they feel like they're earned. Usually a scary sequence will start and the mood and terror will build for a couple of minutes, until they're released in a way that the audience wouldn't expect it.

For example, there's a scene early on in the movie where Lorraine is locked in a room with the painting of the ghost that she's been seeing. We know something is going to happen with the painting, but it doesn't come until several minutes later after creepy shadows are seen on the wall, music starts playing, two misdirections, and a creepy hand coming out of the painting itself slowly. Everything is choreographed and paced perfectly for a horror movie.

That being said, the biggest problem a horror movie can face is its length. If you've ever noticed, most horror movies tend to be a bit on the short side. That's because the longer you immerse yourself in a horrific world, the longer you have to get used to it. If you're watching a movie for an incredibly long time, you start to get used to some of the scares and chills thrown at you, so it losses its fear factor. The Conjuring 2 clocks in at well over two hours, with so much set up and so many scenes dedicated to introducing new characters and how they relate to the haunting in England. We have the English family, their neighbors, the professor who believes them, the skeptic who thinks it's a hoax, the neighbor's dog, the kid's friends, the police, the BBC, and finally the Warrens. There are so many characters here that it feels like we're spending more time with them than the actual haunting.

However, when the scares appear, they work extremely well. One scene is just the ghost channeling itself through the 10 year old girl, and it makes for a fairly compelling scene. In fact, all of the scenes where ghosts just mess around with our heroes are damned good and are scary. Even when I know that something is behind a locked door and the main characters shouldn't open it, I'm clenched in fear because I know that it's going to be opened and something horrible is going to happen.

However, while I can suspend my rational mind when ghosts are being evil and spoopy, I can't suspend it when a major plot hole appears and sucks me out of the movie. It's very rare for a misstep to take me right out of the movie, but The Conjuring 2 just happens to have one. Spoilers for those who aren't aware.

When the Warrens are confronted with the demon that's been following Lorraine, they need to figure out the demon's name in order to banish it. They're trying desperately to figure it out, and they eventually do figure it out through a stroke of luck because the ghost actually possessed Lorraine and wrote its name down for her. The problem is that in a very early scene in the movie, as in the first scene where Ed is painting the picture of the demon because he JUST dreamed it, the name is shown in the background of the room. And it's not just like a subtle nod too, the name is in an obnoxious macaroni drawing that stands out like a sore thumb because of how colorful and unique of a name it is. I would call it a cute little wink to the audience, but it's so glaring that I remembered that name for the entire movie because of it, so the final reveal was wasted by an earlier goof.

The Conjuring 2 does have heart though and it is an extremely well made movie. It's a damned scary movie, and it takes classic haunted house and ghost story tropes and makes them all compelling again for a 2016 audience. I was genuinely scared because the acting, the cinematography, and the tone was so well executed that I couldn't help but be scared. Yes it may be a bit too bloated for its own good, but I have to admit that The Conjuring 2 is a damned good horror movie.


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