The Conjuring might not have been the most original supernatural thriller ever made. However, it was hard not to be won over by the film’s sinister tone and stellar performances. The same couldn’t be said about the prequel/spinoff, Annabelle, which was widely seen as a quick cash grab. Just when it looked like this franchise had taken a turn for the worse, though, director James Wan comes out swinging with The Conjuring 2. This isn’t just one of the best horror follow-ups out there, but a rare sequel that improves upon its predecessor in many ways. Complete with gothic imagery, a well-crafted story, and a surprising amount of depth, it’s a truly welcome surprise.
The Conjuring 2 takes place several years after the first film in 1977. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles as paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, respectively. Meanwhile, Frances O’Connor stars as Peggy Hodgson, a single mother raising her children in London. Madison Wolfe is genuinely creepy as Peggy’s youngest daughter, Janet, who’s suffering from the worst case of demonic possession since Regan in The Exorcist. Although they have their own personal and literal demons to deal with, the Warrens agree to visit Peggy in order to bust the ghosts.
The setup might sound familiar and The Conjuring 2 isn’t without its clichés. Every time we see an overused trope, however, the film manages to catch us off guard. For example, Peggy calls the police early on and informs them of the things going bump in the night. So the cops don’t believe her and contribute nothing, right? Actually no. The officers see that the house is haunted. Of course they quickly realize that the police can’t do much to help. After all, you can’t arrest and incarcerate a spirit.
Director James Wan has a ton of fun with the jump scares as well. In most horror movies, the audience can always tell when something is about to leap out from the shadows. Wan doesn’t settle for cheap gotcha moments here, though. He does a masterful job at building up each scene and then throws a curve ball at us. Sometimes the payoff is thrilling. Other times the payoff is funny. Either way, you rarely know what’s waiting around every corner. Wan further elevates his film with crafty cinematography, sharp editing, and a lingering style that never gets in your face.
In addition to being a frightening flick, The Conjuring 2 also takes the time for quiet, subtle moments. The filmmakers notably work in a brief Elvis musical sequence that does little to further the plot, but adds another level of atmosphere. This is an unexpectedly character-driven piece with identifiable people at its core. Lorraine and Ed in particular share a very meaningful marriage that you really come to care about. The rapport they develop with young Janet is also quite poignant.
What’s more, The Conjuring 2 never turns these characters into idiots. Granted, you could argue that Peggy should’ve just left her house from the get-go. Of course that’s a problem with virtually all scary movies. Other than that, every action these people take feels legitimate and nothing comes off as too forced. Wan and his fellow screenwriters ultimately tell an involving ghost story full of clever twists and turns. Even if it doesn’t quite reach the same heights of a horror masterpiece like The Babadook, The Conjuring 2 will give you the chills in all the right ways.