I was scared shitless watching The Conjuring 2; then I was surprisingly freaked and left calmly creeped out. Even as it descends from horrifying brilliance into a loud, effects-driven, only slightly creepy hustle, it always manages to be “something”.
But it’s a shame that it had to descend at all. Seems like such a long time ago that Spielberg defined the cardinal rule of all horror movies: The less you show, the better. The more and more you show the shark, monster, or terrifying clown-like entity, the less scary it becomes
. We know what to expect, and therefore go from staring at the theater floor during a scary scene to staring the demonic baddie in the eyes going, “Pssh, you ain’t nothing.” Horror is not a test in how long you can restrain yourself until you have to bombard the screen with flying furniture; it’s a psychological game.
Director James Wan starts of the movie adhering to this style quite well. We see the Warrens—Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga)—at the famed Amityville home during their now famous visit. Lorraine, through her medium skills (black magic!), is transported to a ghostly world where she encounters a premonition. The basement setting is filled with a dark, mysterious atmosphere and plenty of sheets draped over body-shaped things. The scene ends with the haunting reveal of a demonic, white-faced nun creature—this movie’s shark. I don’t know what it is with Wan and demons wearing an obscene amount of white makeup. If someone were to accuse him of being afraid of mimes, they would have ample evidence.
Wan’s penchant for atmosphere—the secret sauce of any horror flick—continues as we’re introduced to the haunted family of the film, the Hodges, in merry ole’ England. The kids are adorable and scrappy-looking. The say stuff like, “Wanker!” and get too excited about the prospect of biscuits. This makes it all the worse to witness the terror once it begins to happen to them—probably after the main girl, Janet (Madison Wolfe), uses a Ouija board (always with the damn Ouija board).
Much like the first film, the movie lingers in a dilapidated home where the floorboards squeak and the doors creak. Wan plays with the shadows with unique camera angles,
but nothing comes of the setup. Take for instance a scene when a little boy is getting a glass of water, and then from outside is a wide shot of the boy in the kitchen window and another window right next to him. We are focused on him, but there’s something off about the other window, as if when we cut back to the wide shot there will be something missing or a dim outline of a face. It’s the little scary, early scenes with the family experiencing the first of the activity: very little is shown, but we know the ghostly perpetrator is lingering invisibly somewhere at all times. I wanted to scream,“Show yourself, damn you!”, as would any audience member. But that is folly—folly, dammit!
I regretted thinking that, because I got exactly what I wished for. Once the Warrens get involved (maybe even slightly before that) we begin to see too much of everything. The ghost in question turns out to be a cranky, dead Englishman who would seem right at home saying words like “tosser” and spitting on the floor. Sure, in demon form he’s given intense yellow eyes and filed-down teeth, but even when Wan tries to save some of the magic
with genuinely thoughtful, creative scenes, the terror has already gone. I began to realize that there’s nothing that terrifying about an old man in ratty pajamas. I can understand why Wan and the writers would think so, but in the end he looks more smelly than terrifying. I just wanted to jump on in and hope a bath would make him less angry.
The same goes for the aforementioned nun. This is a separate demon that specifically haunts and taunts Lorraine. This being is vastly more menacing than the demonic Dickensian character that haunts the family. Sadly, though, the nun is met with the same treatment. After too many up-front encounters with Mother Theresa she becomes more like a twisted Cirque du Soleil character than a horror villain. Some would say they’re the same thing, but one is supposed to give you nightmares and the other is supposed to make you laugh uncomfortably. I was doing more of the latter.
Meanwhile, between all the semi-creepiness we see the Warrens giving many examples
about why we need to believe people and have faith in everyone. This underlined by a plot point that allows the audience to step into the mind of a skeptic, doubting if what is happening to the girl is a hoax or the real deal. This small nugget of the story is an interesting one. Most “true story” horror movies try to cram it down your throat, forcing to accept it all really happened.
Granted, I’m giving that plot element more praise than I should. Eventually the movie sinks back into the “okay, they weren’t lying” angle, allowing for a traditional modern horror climax of loud CGI and running around, with the demon being defeated with a simple, “I send you back to Hell!” You’d think Satan would’ve found a way around that by this point instead of just crossing his fingers saying, “Please don’t try that, please don’t try that!”
So, yes, whether the movie is horrifying, slightly creepy or Wan’s best version of a demented circus it’s always “something”, but what’s a shame is that it could’ve been so much more. It’s at first haunting and above-average for a horror sequel, willing to find unique ways to elicit suspense and dread. But then it becomes boring and very un-terrifying via belief-preaching and general lack of anything to be afraid over. By this point I was praying for nightmares, like a psychotic person. The reality is that by the midway point I was just incredibly bored. The demons went from off-putting to clownish, and the horror followed. The film ends with a humble shot of the Warrens all happy n’ such, solidifying the movie’s overall message that having faith and trust in someone, maybe even God, will make everything okay. To that I quote South Park: “We go to church to learn that stuff. We go to movies to be entertained.”