scene from The Conjuring 2

Images courtesy of Warner Brothers/
New Line Cinema

The Conjuring 2:

Frights Aplenty

| published June 29, 2016 |

By Maggie Nichols, Thursday Review contributor

Rarely does a sequel exceed the quality of the original. It can happen, as was the case with Terminator 2—a vastly better film in overall quality, though it lacked the grittiness of the first. Each of the movies in the rebooted Star Trek series have improved over time, which means we can—hopefully—expect even better things from Star Trek Beyond, scheduled to be released in July 2016.

Horror films rarely get better with each subsequent attempt to follow the first. Whatever was original and fresh the first time becomes threadbare and institutionalized with each passing sequel, until they become parodies of each other. None of the umpteen Exorcist series follow-ups were as potent as the first, with each sequel becoming more preposterous than the previous one.

Likewise, the great franchises built around increasingly monstrous characters—such as Freddie Krueger and Jason Voorhees—tend to run out of creative steam very quickly, well before these series reach their fourth or fifth or sixth sequels. Reboots help, but only by adding technical strengths and special effects possible through digital technology.

The Conjuring 2, a prequel of sorts to the highly watchable and interesting The Conjuring (2013), may be one of those rare cases of a sequel (or follow-up) better than the first. Using basically the same cast (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farminga), which in this case was essential to maintain a sense of continuity and consistency, the movie tells the story of 1970s paranormal researchers and investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (the characters are based on the creepy exploits of the real-life husband and wife exorcists and researchers by the same name), takes us this time to a suburb of London, England, where they investigate frightening goings-on inside the home of the Hodgson family.

Short version, and without any spoiler alerts: one of the Hodgson daughters has shown signs of possession by something clearly evil. Having run out of options, and having been dismissed by the authorities (in this type of story, it is essential that the “mainstream” officials disregard the strange activities as either pranks or well outside of their jurisdiction), the family has contacted the Warrens as a sort of last resort. Predictably, but with all the usual fun attached to such plots, the Warrens become as much a target of the veil powers as the children in the house.

One minor drawback of the movie is that it sets us up for all-too-obvious frights and screams: he director has gone to great pains to intensify and heighten every scene involving things that jump out or go boo. I guarantee that you will, on at least two dozen occasions, jump straight out of your seat like a jack-in-the-proverbial box. If you don’t like this sort of patent set-up, then don’t waste your time or money. But if sustained tension twisting scenes with something scary leaping out at you is your type of good, clean fun, then you’ll have a blast.

Another important fact. For those who like their horror devoid of religious or spiritual undertones or backstory, be prepared to expand your politically-correct horizons. Like the first in this installment, this story—based loosely on the real-life experiences—is at many points deeply grounded in Christian faith and Catholic Church-structured beliefs, as well as a patchwork of other faith-based remedies for demonic activity. Where most horror films operate in a vacuum without God or faith—there are only superhuman maniacs with hockey masks and chainsaws—this taut narrative weaves the religious components deeply into the movie. Atheist and agnostic moviegoers may occasionally face uncomfortable moments.

In fact, the story opens with the couple facing a career choice of sorts, as Lorraine tries to convince her husband that the heavy toll wrought by previous battles with evil spirits and possessed houses has become too much; time to retire from being frightened half to death and stick to speaking events, book tours and writing.

But the fascinating elements found in the Hodgson case are too strong, and the couple travels to England to face what becomes a formidable challenge: rid the British home of what demons seem determined to keep control of both property and lives.
scene from The Conjuring 2
Also, tension plays a valuable role here: director James Wan deliberately builds each segment of fright with long, sustained, unbearable periods of silence and minimalism. You know what is going to happen, but he gets you every time anyway. A few of the marriage-romance elements do not work well against the background of the possessions and the horror, but these minor sidebars can be easily overlooked by the strength of the rest of the film.

In addition, some critics are calling The Conjuring 2 the best faith-based film of possession and demonic activity since 1974’s The Exorcist—a pretty good way to praise a movie designed to basically make you spill your popcorn.

In short, well worth the ticket price to see this at the theater (especially if price is an issue). Prepare to be scared out of your seat.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Captain America: Civil War; Maggie Nichols; Thursday Review; June 15, 2016.

Rest in Peace, No Horror, Wes Craven; Lori Garrett; Thursday Review; August 31, 2015.