Friday, 10 June 2016
'The Conjuring 2': Bigger, Longer, and Unholy
The most telling aspect of The Conjuring 2, the gonzo sequel to the 2013 horror smash, is that it's 133 minutes long. A running time like that is a rarity—The Exorcist, at 132 minutes, may be the strongest analogue—because the genre draws intensity from concision, and its dread-soaked mysteries are not so easily sustained over time. But director James Wan, who made the seventh The Fast and the Furious entry between the two Conjuring movies, has figured out how to adapt the genre to the blockbuster age, when studios are batting for a home run every time they step to the plate. This is no mere haunted house movie. This is a tour through a giant, spring-loaded funhouse.
For evidence of Wan's horror maximalism, look no further than the opening sequence, which finds real-life ghostbusters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren holding a seance at the famed Dutch Colonial in Amityville before moving onto something bigger. Consider that for a moment: Scary happenings at the Amityville house—second only in horror iconography to the Bates house in Psycho, the subject of 14 movies (and counting) and numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and semi-fiction—are a mere throat-clearing for The Conjuring 2. Wan's last feature had cars parachuting from a plane onto a mountain pass. This one has a room full of crosses that get twisted upside-down like a doorknob to the gates of hell. Like any director of a blockbuster sequel, he takes the mandate to top himself seriously.
The Conjuring 2 mostly justifies the bloat, because Wan's style is wonderfully energized and nimble, with a camera that roves quickly, sometimes madly, toward danger and a restless escalation of stakes. He also has legitimately compelling lead characters in Ed and Lorraine, whose profession and marriage the movies take seriously, even if the real world received them more skeptically. After a vision at Amityville prophecies her husband's death and brings a frightening new demon into her conscience, Lorraine insists they take a step back from active casework and act strictly as consultants instead. It doesn't happen, of course, but the depth of feeling between them gives the supernatural threat more weight.
Seven years after Amityville, Ed and Lorraine are summoned to a modest old home in the London borough of Enfield, where single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Conner) and her four children are besieged by a poltergeist. Peggy's youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) has been haunted and occasionally possessed by an exceedingly cranky old spirit who wants the Hodgsons out of his home. The Warrens are called in by the Church in an unofficial capacity, but as their skepticism falls away, their mission to help the spiritually afflicted draws them into the fight.
As with The Conjuring and his two Insidious movies, Wan lifts from a generous smorgasbord of influences, combining the urban possession of The Exorcist and the multi-dimensional child abduction of Poltergeist with Spielbergian moments of humor and wonder. Never much for gore—even Saw, his extreme-horror breakthrough, is more about pain than plasma—Wan instead amplifies the scares with old-fashioned effects and a hyper-aggressive soundtrack. There are at least five or six full-body shivers in The Conjuring 2, and most of them come through jump-scares done right, with each ghoulish surprise punctuated by blasts of unholy guttural noise.
There's nothing particularly distinctive about The Conjuring 2, which is more about repurposing old effects than adding new ones. (Its generic qualities extend to the music cues. When the action shifts to London, Wan cuts a montage to The Clash's "London Calling," which was recorded two years after the movie takes place.) What it lacks in originality, however, it makes up in moxie. Wan turns the Hodgson residence into whirring gizmo of demonic effects—a self-propelled fire truck, a zoetrope come to life, a leather recliner of the damned—that never stops moving. It's like the Hodgsons have taken up residence inside a shark's mouth and the beast is relentlessly chewing. Wan brings the monster vividly to life, and in its scaled-up hokum, The Conjuring 2charts a future for studio horror.