With the horror genre these days, the most successful films tend to largely come from independent sources. Films like The Babadook, It Follows and The Witch all involve interesting concepts that rely on something other than jump scares and idiotic characters in ridiculous situations. Studio productions, meanwhile, seem to largely fall short. There’s a solid exception, though, in The Conjuring. Based on the work of Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring managed to create a film that felt smart and genuinely horrifying. With that film’s success, of course, it meant that a sequel (as well as a spinoff) were obligatory. And while Annabelle was a disaster, the return of writer/director James Wan and stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are promising enough to hope that The Conjuring 2 can live up to its predecessor. So…does it?
Set several years after the events of The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 opens with a seance at the site of the Warrens’ biggest claim to fame: the Amityville house. The events of the seance kick off a series of TV appearances and public slanderings for the Warrens, but also leaves Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) with a desire to avoid their work for the foreseeable future, thanks to a chilling vision she sees involving Ed (Wilson).
They’re brought out of their self-imposed semi-retirement when the Catholic church requests their presence in the case of the Enfield poltergeist. In the home of Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children, a malevolent presence has begun to disrupt their lives, particularly that of daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). The story brings massive amounts of media attention in London, and Ed senses a duty to the Hodgson family to fulfill his calling for them.
In setting the film after the Amityville events, the world in which the Warrens work is significantly different than those in the original film. They’re known more widely this time, and the case they’re investigating is similarly more “known” to the public as the events unfold than those in the previous film. That change helps distinguish The Conjuring 2 from its predecessor, so it doesn’t feel like a retread of The Conjuring. Far from it. If anything, The Conjuring 2 goes bigger and bolder with its scares, and while nothing matches the iconic hand clap scene from the original, the scares are still effective. It’s because, for all of the ways this film goes bigger, Wan still has a handle on controlling these elements and deploying them in just the right manner.
The film also doubles down on the Warrens themselves.While the couple is largely absent while the events involving the Enfield poltergeist are being set up, their eventual return highlights the fact that these two not only truly believe in what they’re doing, but rely on each other to do what they do. The two have some tender moments, and a couple of silly ones as well that make them more believable as partners in life. There’s a kindness to Ed, and a love in Lorraine’s eyes that knows how lucky she is to have him, that is truly sweet. “Sweet” might seem out of place in a horror film, but it helps keep the stakes up when events threaten Ed and Lorraine throughout the film. It’s a credit to the screenwriters, as well as the performances from Wilson and Farmiga, that this couple simply works as a team.
Thanks to a strong script, controlled direction, commanding lead performances and strong ensemble in supporting roles, The Conjuring 2 manages to do something unusual: it’s the rare horror sequel that can honestly match its predecessor. Here’s hoping they can keep it up for the inevitable third film.