If one word could be used to describe The Conjuring 2 it would be a-harrowing-ordeal. It is unrelenting, surprisingly moving and a fascinating portrait of a family in peril with the famous demonologist and psychic Ed and Lorraine Warren at the center. Like its predecessor, this movie is incredibly well cast and written with enough jump scares to satisfy causal audiences and disturbing images to cause even seasoned horror fans nightmares.
After apparently swearing off horror movies, James Wan is back behind the director's chair for Conjuring 2. He's brought his arsenal of tricks with him – quick reveal cuts, artful framing, topsy-turvy camera swings, and those prolonged pauses on darkness where the audience strains to see something in the pitch black. What he doesn't bring is anything new. By now, audiences can anticipate his next move and the overly familiar plot doesn't help matters. However, he compensates by changing the timing of the scares. They're never when you think they should be and this is how he builds suspense. One mesmerizing scene starts with a faux startle with a painting, and then is so patiently sinister you have time to realize how much your anxiety levels are rising. The effect is maddening.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farming's performances as Ed and Lorraine Warren once again ground the film and give it a profound depth. Even with its long running time (2h 14min), you can't help but be mesmerized by their chemistry. Also, the film spends a great deal of time with the Hodgsons family drama, making their subsequent agony much more resonant. This kind of patience reminds me of 70s haunted house films that focused on characters before the horror. Caring about the characters makes you more invested as an audience, which makes their plight even more frightening. (Stay through the end credits to see pictures of the actual family and actual recordings of a possessed Janet.)
It's rare for a sequel to measure up to the quality of the predecessor, and this is definitely a solid film. It is exhausting, consistency ratcheting up the dread, and then pummeling you with sudden abject terror – everything a horror film should be. It's also rare (and slightly odd) when an audience claps at the end of film, but I joined in when the audience at my screening burst into applause.