The Conjuring 2 (2016) Film Review from the 22nd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by James Wan, starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, and Lauren Esposito.
As any horror fan will tell you, the genre is subjected to a level of derision from critics that few others elicit. It may be tempting to rationalize this as a case of uptight fuddy-duddies who “just don’t get it” railing against something not meant for them, but the truth is that, in most cases, the critics have a point. So many horror films fixate on the perceived need to scare viewers at every opportunity that filmmakers almost forget what it is that elevates the unsettling into the terrifying: the context. Audiences may twitch at the random, meaningless jump scare, but it’s the fright from a movie that takes it’s time telling it’s story and letting us know who the characters are and what is at risk that sticks with them. This kind of fear is summoned in the ominously-chilling The Conjuring 2 by the capable hand of James Wan.
From the opening scene of Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) encountering a nightmarish nun in a trance to the menacing-sounding voices droning in the background as the title credits float across the black screen, the film quickly lets us know what the stakes are. It acknowledges that it is a horror movie without adopting the self-conscious or even self-degrading tone so common to the genre, allowing viewers to take it seriously and anchor themselves in the universe it inhabits. A major part of this universe, of course, is the Hodgson’s home, where the bulk of the action – as well as character development – takes place.
When we first meet the Hodgsons’, they are a dysfunctional family facing problems all too familiar to audiences. A daughter lies about being caught with a cigarette at school, a son won’t shut up about the lack of his favorite food, and the father is long gone, leaving frustrated mother Peggy (O’Connor) to deal with all this on her own. But when their problems become weirder, the Hodgsons’ have no choice but to band together and be there for each other. Taking responsibility for her earlier actions as supernatural forces run rampant through their house, the daughter admits to Peggy that she was caught with a cigarette, but that she only wanted to impress her friend by holding it and had no intention of smoking it. Moved by her daughter’s honesty, Peggy embraces and tries to reassure her, touching viewers as they realize that she likely would not have extended such an unreserved act of kindness before things started going bump in the night.
Our heroes, Lorraine and Ed Warren (Wilson), get their own share of development, for which we should be eternally grateful. Lorraine spends a majority of the movie playing cat and mouse with the demonic apparition she saw at the beginning of the film even as Ed, discouraged by continued media mockery, tries to limit his and Lorraine’s participation in paranormal investigations. When they are first summoned to the Hodgson’s home in England, he hypothesizes that Janet (Wolfe), who is the most often possessed by the entity haunting the house, is suffering from a neurological condition. After being attacked by the ghost himself, however, he steps back into full supernatural investigator mode and works tirelessly to liberate the Hodgsons’ from the dark force attacking them. Even with an already-solid cast, Wilson manages to shine in his role and turn in what might be his best performance yet.
Featuring impressive performances from everyone involved and parading some truly creepy creatures ( one particularly disturbing individual called The Crooked Man has two brief but memorable appearances), The Conjuring 2 is a horror film for those who refuse to settle for creepy gimmicks and cheap scares.
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