Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #615
Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 10, 2016
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 134 minutes
Director: James Wan
Producers: Peter Safran, Rob Cowan, James Wan
Screenplay: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson
Special Effects: Berj Bannayan, Matt Kutcher, Chris Reynolds
Visual Effects: Allan Magled, Colin Strause, Ariel Velasco-Shaw
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Score: Joseph Bishara
Editing: Kirk Morri
Studios: New Line Cinema
The Safran Company, Atomic Monster Productions, RatPac Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Shannon Kook, Sterling Jerins, Abhi Sinha, Bob Adrian, Robin Atkin Downes, Bonnie Aarons, Joseph Bishara, Javier Botet
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Joseph Bishara “Doll Box”
 The Bee Gees “I Started A Joke”
 Joseph Bishara “Old Man Bill”
 Joseph Bishara “Crooked Man Rhyme”
 Joseph Bishara “Nun Painting”
 Joseph Bishara “Asserted Presence”
I wish I could conjure almost $1 billion in revenue from two films and a half-baked spin-off. When Chad & Carey Hayes’ The Conjuring appeared on the scene in 2013, I think it would be fair to say that it exceeded expectations. Indeed, it was a massive global hit it went on to become one of the highest grossing horror films in history. It’s director James Wan has since gone on to become effectively the George Lucas of the horror genre and pretty much everything this dude touches turns golden. The movie was well received critically and, even though John R. Leonetti’s by-product Annabelle was relatively powder puff by all accounts, that didn’t stop cinemagoers flocking in their droves to find out what all the fuss was about. Sure things are few and far between in the film industry but, in the history of certainties, it’s seldom to find one as cast-iron as the inevitable sequel here.
With Wan back on board and now making a contribution to the screenplay also, the signs were extremely positive and, lo and behold, domestic success followed to the tune over $300 million. Already it has been reported that another spin-off, The Nun is in development and there are talks about a second sequel emerging in the near future so it seems that The Conjuring has got itself a stranglehold on the market and will roll on relentlessly in coming years. While sequels don’t necessarily fare particularly well, this one hit all the right buttons, and many consider it to be superior to the first installment, which is rather an impressive feat in itself. I’ve watched a lot of supernatural fodder over the past few years to the point where little affects me nowadays but more of the same in this case would do me just fine. The original was well-played, featured a fair share of grisly chills, and did far more right than wrong so its successor was already playing with a plum hand.
Straight from the get-go, we rejoin white-bread paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they attempt to cleanse the infamous Amityville house, shortly after the Lutz family endured such a torrid time at the hands of unwelcoming spirits. This case is set to make them a part of modern pop culture and open to derision from anyone looking to debunk their theories although, when Lorraine suffers a vision during a séance that rocks her to her very core, a little bad press becomes the very least of their concerns. She promptly informs her significant other that she no longer wishes for them to delve quite so deeply into the metaphysical as she fears for their safety, his in particular, and feels that the bubble is about to burst in the worst manner imaginable. Ed reluctantly honors her wishes and the pair enter into an indefinite hiatus.
Meanwhile on the other side of the globe, North London to stick a pin in it, single mother of four Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) is struggling to make ends meet after her husband did a runner and resides in a poky council house complete with festering fixtures and the customary lived-in erosion. Times are hard in 1977, the Thatcher era has already dawned, and this cozy little homestead is the domestic embodiment of the dreary economic climate. Peggy is as dowdy in appearance as one would expect for a woman burdened with the responsibility of both parents and the kind of mom who believes any problem can be solved with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. She does her laundry, makes sure the kids get off to school okay, and fills any remaining time with a spot of harmless chinwagging with the her awfully nice neighbors. Spectacular she most certainly ain’t but it’s great credit to the production design team for nailing both the era and personnel with such frightening accuracy.
Anyhoots, while domestic bliss may be pushing it, the Hodgsons appear to be fighting the good fight without too many bruises. That is until the bumps in the night commence (cue shrill sound byte). The second oldest of the brood Janet (Madison Wolfe) bears the brunt of this sudden spurge of nocturnal activity and, when she’s not sleepwalking, she’s having a natter with the ghost of some grumpy old geezer whose favorite downstairs armchair still smells of his farts and, needless to say, he isn’t best pleased with sharing occupancy. Perhaps more ominously, all four of the Hodgson kids in turn witness something ghastly and, with Annabelle under lock, key and chain across the Atlantic in Ed and Lorraine’s storm cellar trophy cabinet, it’s time for some new spooks to scuttle, hover and lurch out of the shadows. And boy do we have us some doozies.
Okay so we’ve already established that old Bill Wilkins isn’t interested in playing happy families but, short of sinking his dentures into some soft young shoulder pelt, he hardly poses the most formidable threat does he? Fear not (or do) as, with the Babadook busy terrorizing any whippersnappers stateside, the UK equivalent Crooked Man is more than happy to step up… and up… and up. Amassing to little more than a collection of disconcertingly long limbs and a set of wonky teeth that grin in the worst way, this particular angled antagonizer does precisely what it states on his music box and terrorizes the living piss out of the little bleeders. The corpse bride may get wet at the prospect of a crooked man slipping into her black negligee after nightfall, but he can stay out of my boudoir by order of my old chums Smith and Weston. Gangly motherfucker. I do hope he’s not listening.
You think he’s bad? Well don’t get me started on the cranky wench in the habit or we’ll be here all week. The demon nun, better known by her fellow fiends as the dreaded Valak, is the very last thing you wish to see glaring back at you through the confessional lattice and possesses far too many teeth for her gaunt face to facilitate. She’s one of those now you see it kind of ghouls, although don’t let her loose on your framed pictures or there’ll be hell and all its subsidiaries to pay. Lorraine knows only too well of the nun and the Hodgsons aren’t the sole family targeted by this harrowing haunt. It’s time for Ed and Lorraine to dust themselves down, boost themselves up, take one long deep anxious breath, and head on over to Thatcher Land for a nice cup of tea, nice biscuit, and not-so-nice suppertime exorcism.
Second time around we are afforded a great deal more time to hang with the Warrens and far greater insight into, not only what makes them tick individually, but also gel as a perfect couple. Loving, attentive, respectful, they also listen to one another when nobody else can tune into their frequency and compliment one another marvelously. Wilson and Farmiga pour themselves into their characters with aplomb as would be expected, but it’s the collective synergy that truly makes us fear for their safety. With their cases now packed and red-eye undertaken, the dynamic is all set to change. We’re talking two families under one roof, both instigated in the madness, both with something to lose, and united to fend off this ominous threat. Game on.
There’s even space for a straggler and, while fellow paranormal expert Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) may appear inconsequential at the offset, he too has his own personal demons to fight and earns his stripes once we’re finally afforded some downtime. It’s all going off within these four gloomy walls and director of photography Don Burgess, composer Joseph Bishara and editor Kirk Morri combine might to create the sense of tingling dread that the original benefited from so considerably. The Hodgson family home may be stately, but that equates to more dark recesses to linger on and Burgess’s lens prowls, swoops, and loiters like a pensioner buying a scratch card as the fright wave persists with pulse-like rhythm.
At 134 minutes, one could argue that The Conjuring 2 could have done with being a tad lighter on the legs and I get that. However, Wan really wants us to care for our extended family and captures them in their quiet moments between frequent calamities to allow for further investment. Lest we not forget that there’s a lot riding on this franchise continuing its ascension to the lofty heights and that it requires our emotional blessing to proceed. The bottom line is that we do care, rather a lot actually, and Lorraine’s premonition haunts us all as we head into a final third the typically back-loaded with gotcha moments.
Of course, it isn’t all about the Warrens, and all other actors acquit themselves well with O’Connor looking increasingly harried as she reveals the whereabouts of her tether’s end and little ‘un Wolfe is a pint-sized miracle as Regan MacNeil’s distant second cousin Janet. Meanwhile, Franka Potente is a welcome addition as paranormal naysayer Anita Gregory, desperate to the refute these “happenings” and oppose our dynamic demonologist duo at every turn. The funhouse itself deserves immeasurable credit, with Wan drawing our attention towards every groaning rafter, screeching swing, and prolonged silence while we await the next nightmarish cameo.
The Conjuring 2 hits all the right notes on course to the expected operatic conclusion and doesn’t forget how important it is for the audience to build a strong emotional connection. Without this, it would be another workmanlike cinematic ghost train not unlike any other in the dozens currently circulating. It’s a far more convoluted affair than its simplistic predecessor and lacks a little of its elegance, but Wan knows precisely how to usher the skin from our bones and has a heaving toy box to draw from to ensure he achieves just that. With that kind of know how behind the lens, it stands to reason that Wan will provide all the evidence we need that frightening really can strike twice. Feel like debunking my theory? Well then I’d suggest you take your grievance up with Valak.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 4/5
For the Dread-Heads: With regards to scares, this may be the only time you ever hear The Conjuring 2 likened to Airplane! as some of it sticks and some of it doesn’t but we’ll be too busy twitching infectiously to care. Valak cuts a truly dubious figure and, every time she flashes those puncturing pearls, involuntary flatulence becomes entirely forgivable. Meanwhile, the Crooked Man is a lanky phantasm in himself, and methinks another spin-off could be a festering soon with his hooked name written all over it. Throw in a multitude of bumps in the night, cantankerous toys, a little levitation, and old man Wilkins bleating on about somebody moving his carpet slippers, and you’ve earned yourself a little brown enemy at the gates right there.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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