It’s like that with big mainstream movies and me: I totally could not be less interested in seeing them until suddenly I am. This series has a great, sequel-friendly idea—the numerous cases of a ghostbusting psychic couple—but then, why call them all The Conjuring? There is no conjuring in this movie, as there was in the first [I think? I have virtually no memory of it except the clapping hands scare], and besides, then it’s not THE Conjuring, is it? It’s like “the next in a series of Conjurings,” although I suppose the alternate title Just Another Conjuring runs counter to marketing imperatives. Regardless, although most reviews are saying this one is almost but not quite as good as the first one, I thought it was quite a bit better. So let’s go!
Once more, we’re with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as 1970s paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, best known for investigating the Amityville house. We begin there, pulling back through the famous windows [I like how these have become the cultural signifiers of the case, like the logo of the case] and go right into Lorraine having a vision of Alice Cooper playing a demonic nun, who [we later find out] shows her a vision of Ed’s death [which is, of course, a bit more dramatic than, say, choking on a chicken bone]. We then move to Einfield, England, the site of this movie’s haunting. There’s Frances O’Connor as mom, and Madison Wolfe as Janet, who will become the focus of the haunting. Both actresses are absolutely terrific, we’ll just get out of the way up front. If you’re familiar with O’Connor from her Jane Austen adaptations, you might be surprised at the working class accent and demeanor she adopts with absolute conviction. There is another girl and two boys. The haunting starts with Janet waking up downstairs, proceeds to loud bangs on the door, and soon escalates from there. Soon the police are called, and luckily for the family, manifestations pop out pretty noticeably during the police visit. This gets the attention of the press, which leads to a TV interview [bringing in the always-excellent Simon McBurney] in which Janet speaks with the voice of an old man, which is soon brought to the attention of Ed and Lorraine.
Before this, though, Lorraine receives a visit from Alice Cooper [this creepy nun] in her own home, and has her vision of Ed’s death by extreme hangnail [the nun is now, by the way, getting her own movie]. This causes Lorraine to want to not participate in paranormal investigations, and if they do, for him to not put himself in danger. They go meet the family and bond with them through a series of small but well-done character interactions. Around now you see that several smart touches are being layered in amongst the scare moments; interactions that show the love between the Warrens, the family coming to trust the investigators, the interactions of the family, among others. But where the movie is quite different is that it’s not rushing us from scare to scare in the manner of most modern horror films, it is really taking its time, slowing and varying the pace with character moments. It understands that while it might be enough to just scare someone, it’s much more involving to scare someone we care about.
So that’s what really won me onto this movie’s side; that it’s taking the time it needs to be a real movie with real relationships, a set of actual characters with their own arcs, and an overall shape with a real climax. True, it has to strain to do this, unlike a real 70s movie which might just do it naturally, but it does it nonetheless. Yes, there are jump scares, but they aren’t all the movie has to offer and it also has a good number of slow-developing scares as well as pieces that are simply well-executed, like the one in which the camera remains on Wilson while behind him, something is happening out of focus that is effective and unnerving. Of course, there are unfortunately a few [luckily very few] things that are just stupid, like the dog turning into a silly evil figure that vanishes moments later.
The movie comes to a fairly modest climax that, surprise, calls on a lot of the emotional heft that the movie has slowly been building up its entire running time. Lorraine’s fears about Ed’s demise result in an emotional scene in which they are separated and she begs him not to go help the family by himself. It’s one of those ingenious things in which all this stuff you thought was just window-dressing suddenly becomes the core of the movie, and all the time they spent building up the couple’s relationship—including in the previous film—come into play and supply the reason you ideally invest in multiple films with the same characters. The final climax also builds on Lorraine’s fears of Ed’s death, and is refreshingly modest—we don’t have to have the house implode, we can just exorcise a ghost and have that be enough.
So yeah, it’s quite good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not The Exorcist,, but it’s miles better than most of the horror fare that’s been released in the past ten years [including the original]. It’s also just plain smart by casting even the smaller roles with excellent actors, in addition to the aforementioned pacing and decent writing and development of themes. I’m ready for number three, and confident that the filmmakers are smart enough to take it in just enough of a new direction and develop it just enough to give you what you want while also remaining its own movie.
Yeah, pretty much, especially if you like scary movies.