The horror genre has always been an interesting one with the multitude of reasons that it still exists. It can serve as a jumping-off point for young directors due to its inherent ability to function on a small budget but can also draw in veteran directors who have a love for scaring the shit out of people. Regardless of the talent behind the camera with each outing, horror films have stayed around for so many decades because of their financial return and peoples' subconscious want to shit their pants in public.
James Wan made waves in 2004 with his first successful feature-film in 'Saw', the gore-filled mysterious horror film that sparked a franchise that he was wise enough to step away from as director after the first. In the following 12 years, Wan has kept himself firmly planted in the horror genre with a couple of non-genre outings, most notably last summer's 'Furious 7', a production that challenged him in more ways than just creatively, With numerous horror films under his belt, Wan cemented himself as a horror director to keep on the radar with 2013's 'The Conjuring'. This film was not only highly profitable but also stands as Wan's most highly rated film to date critically. He attempts to follow up the success with of this gem with this year's 'The Conjuring 2'.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return to the cast as the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren and bring with them franchise newcomers Frances O'Connor and Madison Wolfe who play Peggy and Janet Hodgson respectively as well as Simon McBurney who plays Maurice Grosse. 'The Conjuring 2' follows the Warrens as they travel to England at the request of the Catholic Church to research the claim that Janet Hodgson and her family are experiencing some sort of violent haunting. As one would imagine, shenanigans ensue.
Immediately Wan and crew do an amazing job of throwing you neck-first into the 70's, opening with the Warrens doing some followup work on the Amityville Haunting, which sets up a major third-act factor. As we jump from the Warrens in the U.S. to the Hodgsons in the U.K., everything from the wallpaper to the collars to the David Soul posters on bedroom walls lets you know that the folks wrapped in the retro garb that fills every room belong in that decade. This isn't shocking since of all the hurdles Wan had in the original 'Conjuring', nailing the time period never tripped him up. Even still, it's a welcome and major component to the film that is seamless throughout.
The cast of 'The Conjuring 2' delivers in spades which shouldn't shock many with Wilson and Farmiga leading the charge in part, but the lesser known of O'Connor, Wolfe and McBurney matching them every step of the way, the youngest of those stealing the show. Child actors are incredibly hit or miss and Madison Wolfe hits it out of the park in 'The Conjuring 2'. Pardon the sports analogy. It's easy enough for experienced adult actors to cross over into the hokey area of horror acting and even easier for children when playing scared or possessed but Wolfe never trips up. The combination of natural gravitas and the guidance of James Wan result in a performance that just might best the more veteran actors surround Ms. Wolfe.
Wan uses the perfectly nailed setting and time period along with pretty stellar performances to help him deliver successful scares throughout. Wan has earned his striped over the last decade plus and is using them to full effect here. Wan blends a nearly constant unsettled feeling with the more modern jump-scares that fill modern horror films all wrapped up in classic scary-as-fuck imagery. Some of the motivating factors for the scares are imagery carried over from the third act that don't feel wedged into the second and third. All of this being used in a small setting in England adds a nice dash of claustrophobia into the mix.
All of these high points aren't without their lower counterparts however. 'The Conjuring 2' is at its best when it trusts the confident direction of James Wan but is at its worst when it leans into the cheesier side of the genre. These cheese-filled mozzarella stick moments come in many forms including hokey camera movements, a hilariously dilapidated house that breaks the continuity of the film, stilted dialogue and the wasteful way in which Vera Farmiga is handled. 'The Conjuring 2' takes a few too many opportunities to use the camera to create a sense of dread that usually break the tension and go against the overall feeling of the film. Add to this the unnecessary use of cranes to follow characters boringly walk into basements and you have a film filled with cinematography that takes the audience out of the mood and story too many times. When these camera movements are used to focus in on Farmiga and the rest of the cast delivering dialogue that barely feels like a first draft used only for exposition, you flirt with ruining the rest of the film in a bad way.
The negative bits of 'The Conjuring 2' thankfully aren't powerful enough to ruin everything that surrounds them. James Wan has proven that he has a complete grasp on this genre and a confident voice to approach it with. Hopefully he can continue to balance these types of films with his more blockbuster-oriented affair for years to come as the genre on the whole is lacking of quality. Oddly enough, seeing this type of product makes me excited for the upcoming Aquaman film from Wan. For anyone who is at least casually a fan of the genre and has seen the first, 'The Conjuring 2' is well worth the trip to the theater.