Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: The Conjuring 2

by Adam Riske
I will see any Wan Direction show.

After taking on a “side project” with Furious 7, watching The Conjuring 2 is like seeing one of your favorite bands when they’re on a reunion tour. In the case of this particular movie, it’s as if James Wan has a few new songs to showcase but he knows you like the hits and he’s for damn sure going to play those too. If that’s not enough, he’s even going to dip into some of his side projects you liked (like Insidious) and jam on those a little bit as well. The Conjuring 2 is the work of an artist who has forgotten about his detractors and is now doubling down on what he and his fans like. I love how indulgent this movie is at 2 hours and 13 minutes. This is James Wan in full “jam band” mode. He could just play the song but he’s like “Nah, man. I’m going to talk to the crowd a little here and maybe add a 3 minute solo for Joseph Bishara.” This is the movie where James Wan has become the Bruce Springsteen of modern horror. When he started with Saw, he was gigging at small venues and now he’s playing the Super Bowl Halftime Show. It’s some kind of Wanderful.
Like some concerts I’ve attended, The Conjuring 2 took a little bit of time for me to give myself over to it. I was sort of resisting the movie for the first 45 minutes because it’s so directed. Knowing I was going to be reviewing the movie, I was paying super close attention to everything, particularly the filmmaking, and that prevented me from getting lost in the experience. It’s a drawback of reviewing movies. It positions you to appreciate and critique sometimes more than enjoy. My brain was bouncing around from “I’m not liking this parallel story structure because it doesn’t build but instead relieves the tension” to “I can see how Wan is trying to orchestrate his scares” to “I wish cinematographer Don Burgess could hold the camera still in a two-shot.” Bottom line: it was a miserable way to watch a movie like The Conjuring 2. And then, as if James Wan looked out into the crowd of rocking faces and saw that my face wasn’t rocking out, he goes: “Adam Riske. This next scene’s for you!”

The scene that followed is a character building scene that takes place between Vera Farmiga and Madison Wolfe on a backyard swing set. It’s beautifully written and does something a lot of horror movies (or movies in general) don’t do. It pauses and takes stock of the emotional state of its characters. From that point on, I was so on board with The Conjuring 2 because it reminded me how much James Wan (and his co-screenwriters) love their characters. In turn, we love them back. It might be a bad comparison because they’re not comedic by nature, but Ed and Lorraine Warren as played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring 1 & 2 are like the William Powell and Myrna Loy of horror. Their relationship is so warm and appealing that I would follow them to any case in any movie. Luckily, by evidence of their “spirit room” as shown in the Conjuring movies, there are plenty more supernatural mysteries for them to explore.
It’s been pretty cool reading reviews and seeing comments posts recently acknowledging that James Wan is now a “master of horror.” I see him as more important than that, actually, in terms of the modern horror genre because he’s essentially keeping the quality theatrical horror experience alive. If it weren’t for James Wan, essentially all of the good horror would be on VOD. Also, his movies make money, which is the only thing the studios care about at the end of the day, so supporting a James Wan film in theaters is crucial to us horror fans. Wan started a new trend in horror with Saw and he kind of did with Insidious as well. The one thing I hope, though he’s totally in the right to do whatever he wants, is that he keeps redefining himself within the genre. The Conjuring and Insidious movies are kind of the same type of scares and he’s done those four times in a row with his horror movies. I want him to try something different soon. While the suspense sequences are well put-together, I’m not scared by his movies any more. They are too familiar. It’s scary like a roller coaster can be scary, but it’s not disturbing.

Getting back to The Conjuring 2 more specifically, I want to give a shout out to the main child performance by Madison Wolfe, who plays Janet Hodgson, the victim of the ghost/demon. It’s the type of hysterical and physical performance that is easy to overlook in the genre, similar to Shelley Duvall in The Shining. Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick get the credit most times for The Shining but you shouldn’t overlook how difficult it must have been for Duvall to keep up that level of fear and hyperventilating and panic for each and every take. Wolfe isn’t amped to 11 like Duvall, but she does a great job of conveying the toll that is being taken on this little girl, whether it is in a contortion, a sense of weariness or simply a simple sad facial expression. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are great again here, too. Their performances burrow below the exposition they need to deliver and have all sorts of personality. Now that they’ve been doing this over two movies, it’s time to put Ed and Lorraine Warren among the list of horror’s great characters.
Whether I liked The Conjuring 2 more than The Conjuring is almost irrelevant (I didn’t, but it’s still very good) because what I take away from The Conjuring 2 is something even more important than whether or not it’s a good movie. I re-learned that I should always trust in the work of the filmmakers I like. In a matter that I’m sure is coincidence, I thought of this because the movie more than once discusses faith and belief. As I mentioned above, I was not crazy about the first act of The Conjuring 2, but then Wan played a “deep track” and I fell into the spirit of the show. He’s a filmmaker who not only gives a shit about the audience but is also talented enough to know how to give a shit. I think there are a lot of directors in horror who fail but have their hearts in the right place. The genre seems to draw filmmakers who are also fans, but Wan is on another level because (even in the prism of a traditional horror movie) he does a thing here and there to make the whole show into something special.


  1. I'm so glad you mentioned that swing set scene, it was probably my favorite part of the movie. It really hit home that the Warren's aren't just ghost hunters, that they help rebuild the family's spirt after its been shattered by this evil thing and give them hope again. And Wanderful is my new favorite thing!

  2. Great review, Adam. I'm with you. I wasn't completely on board at first. It felt like a retread, but after a while I came to see that as a plus instead of a minus. The Warren's sweet, supportive relationship is the reason to see this movie. I would follow them anywhere. I also kinda think it's great that (spoilers, I guess?) James Wan isn't interested in killing characters for shock value in these movies. You can do scary without working red.

    1. Thanks for being the only other person who agrees with me that Annabelle is good btw.

    2. It's the Ant-Man of the Cinematic Waniverse.

  3. I think Patrick Wilson's Ed Warren is one of the great male role models in movies today. He's a strong, tough badass who's uncompromisingly good. I think we need more characters like that. We don't always need the anti-hero.

    Also, I adore the main demon's creature design. Man, that's a freaky looking monster!