Reviewing this movie is a particular challenge for me because I definitely enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it as a horror movie; but I didn’t think the movie ever actually frightened me, and I’m not sure if that’s because it’s not a scary movie, or because I’ve built up a tolerance to horror film, especially one that leans so heavy into genre conventions.
Based on the quote-true-unquote story of the Enfield Poltergeist, The Conjuring 2 follows exorcist-couple Ed and Lorraine Warren to England, where they help a poor English family conquer the evil spirit possessing their home and their youngest daughter/sister. It’s a classic haunted house/poltergeist story that throws in every trope of the form: levitation, furniture that moves on its own, nursery rhymes, a haunted toy, playing “catch” with the ghost, demonic voices from little girls, Catholic imagery, a ouija board, spooky knocking, and almost every other trick in that book. And director James Wan handles all of them masterfully. A lot of this films scares are classically telegraphed, with visual direction wonderfully complimented by the soundtrack and other audio elements like the tempo of a character’s breath. Even if you think you can pin down exactly when something is gonna pop-out at you, the film knows how to spring things a little too early or too late to get a jump out of you.
More than just telegraphing, a lot of this movie’s camerawork draws attention to itself with sweeping shots, dramatic zooms, and impossible tracking shots. It’s comedic at moments, and creates a distance that prevented me from getting close enough to get scared. There’s also the use of CG in the film, which looks more cartoony than uncanny.
What works best in The Conjuring 2 are its heroes, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The two Ghostbusters are perfectly cornball, like if Fred and Daphne left the dog and the stoner behind, got married, and found Jesus. But as gosh-darned silly as they are, they’re also just so likable. Ed and Lorraine are genuinely heroic characters, and Patrick Wilson in particular plays a better Superman in this role than Henry Cavill did as Superman. While helping the family with their poltergeist, he also fixes their plumbing and plays them Elvis on an acoustic guitar. He tells the children to be brave and face their demonic bully together. His hope and drive to help others is infectious, even if all his Jesus talk would otherwise be off-putting. The same goes for Vera Formiga’s Lorraine, who follows Ed to England despite her own fears, and spends her first scene there bonding with the possessed child who everyone else is afraid of. Ed and Lorraine might be the cutest couple on film, and all the Jesus stuff keeps from getting cheesy because the two totally sell the belief as a genuine font for universal goodness and hope. Religion isn’t just a higher power to the Warrens, it’s their reasoning for believing in good even while surrounded on all sides by evil.
Even on its own terms, The Conjuring 2 is a silly film. And, depending on how you watch horror, it might even be too cheesy to be scary. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. I’ve had more raw fun watching this than I have most other films this year, and I’d watch the Warrens’ next adventure, no matter which haunted house comes next.