Monday 26 December 2016

The Conjuring 2 (2016) - Movie Review
While the original Saw gave James Wan his official debut and Insidious gave audiences a real taste of what Wan’s style of filmmaking was, it was The Conjuring that gave him the break he desperately needed. Aside from being a critical darling when it came out, and being a friggin’ awesome horror flick in its own right, it also proved that Wan wasn’t completely dependent on Leigh Whannell’s scripting to deliver a gripping story. With a nicely retro approach to scares and an insane level of dedication to adhering to the era in which the story was set, not to mention a great cast, it’s the kind of horror film that I can easily see being remembered several years from now.

Then came the spin-off film Annabelle, Wan teaming back up with Whannell for Insidious: Chapter 2, and then Wan being a creative consultant for Lights Out… wow, that’s a bad track record in terms of horror flicks. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the guy’s work but, in terms of confirming that this sequel to probably his most celebrated work will actually be a success, it is less than convincing, shall we say. Of course, because I will never get tired of saying it, I’m willing to be proven wrong on this one.

The plot: In Enfield, London, the Hodgsons are experiencing strange happenings in their house that seem to be centred on their youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). As spookier and creepier things happen to their family, and the media start to get a hold of it, it draws the attention of paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) who travel to Enfield in order to remove the evil presence from the house.

The acting is really damn good, even considering how stereotypical the British accents can get from the mostly-played-by-American Hodgsons. Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh and Patrick McAuley all do surprisingly well with their Cockney accents, with O’Connor and Wolfe in particular giving some real intensity to their scenes. Simon McBurney and Franka Potente as two of the people involved in initially looking into the possibility of ghosts in the house are decent, but they both seem to represent the more extreme ends of the argument: McBurney’s Maurice is too willing and Potente’s Anita Gregory is sceptical to the point of being (however intentionally) a serious thorn in the audience’s side. And then there’s the Warrens, and good lord, they are fantastic in this thing. Farmiga uses her character’s place as a medium, as well as the nightmarish situations she gets thrown into, to give some real emotion to her character, and Wilson is just plain cool to watch on screen. Seriously, I could watch this guy imitate Elvis on a loop from now till the end of the year.

While not nearly as pragmatic in terms of depicting the era in which the story is set, Wan’s direction is no less masterful in how it delivers horror. He plays around a lot with pre-conceived notions of how scenes in horror films are ‘supposed’ to go, presenting fairly obvious chances for jump scares and cheap shots… and then twisting it around to bring that unexpected factor to the chills that makes those kinds of shots effectively in the first place. It takes familiar elements of the genre like the creepy possessed child and the apparent inability to leave the haunted house, but presents them in ways that are not only quite creepy but also rather logical. It may not measure up to Ouija: Origin Of Evil’s moments of mind-blowing smarts, but considering it goes into rather contrived territory in terms of overall plot, it handles it remarkably well.

The film starts out much like the first with a prologue involving another one of the Warrens’ cases, this time of the now-legendary Amityville haunting. However, rather than just being a small stepping stone, it ends up playing into the main events of the film both textually and contextually. Textually, the experience Lorraine had during the investigation into that case ends up informing a lot of her character actions throughout this film, as well as providing the film with easily its most literally chilling sequence involving a painting of a spirit that has been haunting Lorraine. Contextually, it makes sense that a ghost from Amityville would be haunting her, since The Amityville Horror has figuratively been haunting every single haunted house movie that came after it. It was one of the originators of the sub-genre as we understand it today, meaning that they all end up being compared to it one way or another by audiences; even if you’ve never seen the original Amityville Horror or its many occasionally laughable sequels, you’ve still seen its influence on modern cinema.

That acknowledgement of how media works into stories like this plays into the narrative proper as well. With Amityville being as high-profile as it is, along with the Warrens after their own investigation into it, news and print recognition of the events in Enfield play into how it brings the Warrens into the case to begin with. The way the film highlights how the media, and the people who wield it, tend to exaggerate or just downright dismiss incidents like this, combined with the logical method of the Warrens themselves, adds some nice muscle to the overall product. It even manages to work past the usual scepticism that hangs around these stories by not only being intelligent when it comes to investigating what’s going on, but also giving even the strawmen collaborators a more fleshed-out reason for going along with the story as readily as they do. In matters concerning the Warrens, whom have seen a lot of scrutiny in the real world, this is honestly an admirable approach to take.

All in all, this is yet another great horror film in a year already chock-full of them. A traditional haunted house story that is at once aware of the media history of the genre and willing to prove itself as a noteworthy addition to the canon, its ability to provide genuine scares and literal goose bumps is matched by a very endearing cast and surprisingly adept performances. It’s honestly kind of pointless to directly compare this to the original Conjuring, as this is more than capable of standing on its own.

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