May contain spoilers
When I tell people that James Wan’s The Conjuring is my favourite horror film, I tend to get one of two reactions. If I’m talking to a casual horror fan, I usually just get a nod, as they tell me that they enjoyed it too; if I’m speaking to a fellow horror nerd, however, the reaction is pretty derisive. I’ve had people laugh in my face at the idea that I could prefer something by James Wan over The Exorcist or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s irritating, but it doesn’t bother me too much. What I love so much about The Conjuring (aside from the fact that it’s terrifying) is how much it cares about its characters. I can’t think of another horror film that’s made me root for its protagonists so hard, or become so invested in their relationships. Well, that is until The Conjuring 2. The sequel is everything I loved about the first film, and then some.
The film takes place six years after The Conjuring, with paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren investigating the case of the Enfield Poltergeist. In 1977, 11 year old Janet Hodgson from North London was allegedly terrorised by a paranormal entity, which would toss her and her siblings from their beds, throw toys and furniture around, and even speak through Janet in a deep, rasping voice. Although the haunting is now largely considered to be a hoax, the film treats it as anything but, with Janet and her family fearing for their lives as the poltergeist’s attacks grow more and more violent. However, that isn’t the only malignant entity with which the Warrens must contend. A vicious demon, in the form of the scariest nun you’ll ever see, has its sights set on Ed. Subject to terrifying visions of his impending death, Lorraine must fight not only to save the Hodgson family, but also her beloved husband.
Hands down, the best thing about both Conjuring films is Ed and Lorraine’s relationship. It’s so refreshing to watch a horror film about a genuinely happy, loving couple, and particularly so when said couple gets a happy ending. Of course, one could argue that Wan could hardly kill Ed off considering that he was a real person and died at the ripe old age of 79, but I’d argue that, considering how many liberties the film takes with the Enfield case, it wouldn’t be too outrageous. The main strength of both Conjuring films is the fact that the audience is made to genuinely care about the Warrens, to enjoy the many endearing moments they share throughout the film, and to fear for what might happen to them. Once again, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are wonderful as Ed and Lorraine, and the chemistry they have together is some of the best I’ve ever seen on screen.
Further evidence as to how much Wan cares about his characters is the scene in which Ed picks up an old guitar and serenades the Hodgsons with “Love Me Tender”. As anyone who’s familiar with Patrick Wilson’s career history will know, the man has a great voice. But beyond that, placing this sweet, slightly funny scene in the middle of the film not only serves to emphasise the horror of the scenes which flank it, but also demonstrates where Wan’s priorities lie. Any other director would have cut the scene short with a jumpscare, or shot it in such a way as to imply that a malignant entity is watching them throughout. Wan chooses instead to let the scene play out in its entirety, from the moment Ed picks up the guitar, to the children’s delighted applause at the end. “Classy” isn’t a word you’d associate with the director of the Saw franchise, and yet it’s entirely appropriate.
The film’s costume, makeup, and hair design are also deserving of much praise. As with the first film, Lorraine’s outfits and hairstyles are absolutely gorgeous, particularly during the scene in which she speaks to Janet in the Hodgsons’ back garden. Perhaps most impressive, though, is blonde, all-American Madison Wolfe’s transformation into the bob-haired, toothy Janet. When I looked the young actress up after watching the film, I didn’t recognise her as the girl I’d seen on screen.
One final thing worth mentioning is, of course, that the film is utterly terrifying. While several different entities appear throughout the film, easily the most frightening is the demon nun, particularly as she isn’t CGI, but rather an actor in makeup. Played by Bonnie Aarons, perhaps most well-known for playing the equally terrifying “monster behind the diner” in Mulholland Drive, her pale face and malicious yellow glare are a constant, horrifying presence, tormenting the Warrens and the film’s audience equally. The scene in which Lorraine is locked in a room with the demon is one of the most frightening scenes in recent horror cinema.
Of course, The Conjuring 2 isn’t perfect. It’s about fifteen minutes too long, and Maria Doyle Kennedy is wasted as the Hodgsons’ sympathetic neighbour. But, even so, I don’t think it would be unfair to call it one of the best horror films of the 21st century so far. It’s well-acted, well-written, gorgeous to look at, and utterly terrifying; furthermore, it has managed that oh so rare achievement of being a sequel that is even better than its predecessor.