Published Jun 09, 2016The second entry in James Wan's Conjuring series, highlighting the adventures of real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), is a serviceable followup, if a little safe. It's a great re-entry into the world of atmospheric architectural horror/'70s camp the first film revelled in without feeling like a tired rehash.
The Conjuring 2 makes the smart decision to simply set up the Amityville haunting as the Warrens' most famous and controversial case, and the rest of the film is concerned with the idea of authenticity and truth. Because the Warrens were decried in the media as frauds after Amityville, the next haunting the Warrens investigate is suspected to be a hoax as well. Young Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) of Enfield, London is seeing and hearing a terrifying old man in the house she shares with her mother and three siblings, but her claims are called into question after a media circus that ensues when her mother reports the terrifying events to the police. The Warrens, after a period of self-imposed ghost hunting retirement post-Amityville, are called by the Church to determine if the Hodgson case is a fake, but the situation is not as clear-cut as it seems.
The Conjuring films are haunted house movies in the truest sense of the phrase. Both establish a sense of place, allowing viewers a clear understanding of the layouts of each house, down to details as seemingly insignificant as the placement of an armchair in a certain corner, and which room is directly above the basement. Several scenes play with space as well, as ghosts lurk in the walls and transport unwilling victims through floors. This extends to the setup of shots, with Wan making great use of entire spaces, often positioning a character in the bottom left or bottom right corner of the frame while something chilling emerges out of the darkness from the opposite side.
As with the first film, the haunting centres on a family, but the Hodgsons feel more real and approachable than the interchangeable series of sisters in the previous instalment. Part of what makes this work is Frances O'Connor's excellent depiction of a frazzled single mom, with a no-nonsense affability and courage hiding a latent fragility. Although they are introduced by a cheesy montage of 1970s British-isms set to the Clash's "London Calling," the Hodgsons are a normal working class London family with normal struggles. While the Warren family was more of a central focus in the first film, the second Conjuring dives deeper into their marriage and how truth and belief, the film's central themes, are what makes their bond so strong.
Structurally, The Conjuring 2 is very similar to its predecessor, and, as the narrative trajectory follows the same beats, it may be less of a chilling surprise for viewers familiar with the first film. It's still well-crafted and well-paced, though, and sets up a variety of atmospheric scares in an audience-friendly way, in a more sophisticated sense than the average, jump-scare-ridden mainstream horror.