“The Conjuring 2” (2016): James Wan’s Confident, Extraordinary, Scary-as-Hell Love Letter to the Horror Genre

The Conjuring 2 is exactly what the genre needs. It is James Wan‘s fright-filled love letter to horror cinema and fans. It is also his best cinematic achievement yet and his most completely and thoroughly frightening film. Somehow, without an ounce of blood, without a body count to speak of, without dialog filled with profanity and vulgar language, and without gore or gruesome special effects, Wan has crafted an R-rated horrifying nightmare that is as scary as any horror film can hope to become, a worthy challenger to The Exorcist in terms of white knuckles, screams and pure entertainment. The direction is remarkable with swooping camera tracks, nerve-wracking camera pans and a playful sense of cat and mouse as Wan displays a confident excellence in cinematic sleight of hand that would make Hitchcock, Spielberg and Friedkin proud. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as Ed and Lorraine Warren, improving on their turn in The Conjuring (2013). Co-starring as Janet Hodgson, the teenage girl possessed by a 72-year-old curmudgeon, young actress Madison Wolfe turns in a star-making performance that is worthy of the highest praise and recognition. Built upon a story from Carey and Chad Hayes that has an emotional heart, The Conjuring 2 is full of creative scares along with  terrifying, imaginative creatures and supernatural monsters, making it a triumphant, must-see horror film.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 2.

Reluctant to continue their investigations into the paranormal due to horrifying visions of their future, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) worries that the closer they get to evil, the more likely her husband Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) will fall victim and perish. Yet when they are called on by the church to look into claims that a family in Enfield, England are in danger from a spirit possessing the youngest daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe), they agree to aid Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her family. The case becomes troubling as they encounter a variety of frightening events appearing both genuine and suspicious as the family’s sanity and the girl’s life hang in the balance.

Left to right: Abhi Sinha, Franka Potente, Simon McBurney, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring 2.

The Conjuring 2 is a film that must be experienced in a crowded theater. My  recent screening of the film held a number of elements that elevated it beyond the typical modern horror film. One impressive reaction was  the audience cheering no less than three times during the screening: once at the end, which  can be expected, but also twice during the film itself. The screening continued to impress with an air filled with nervous laughter, not ridiculing chuckles nor joke-filled guffaws; instead, it  was  the kind of laughter you often hear when filmgoers are desperately trying not to scream. The film also contains a good deal of “jump out of your skin” scares, some so startling even the most jaded horror fan is likely to scream out loud. Unlike many modern horror films, these jump scares are earned with unwavering tension and precisely crafted camera direction. Thankfully not every scare is a jump scare; many of the most shocking scenes are pure edge-of-the-seat horror set pieces where the anticipation of something terrifying is palpable, draped carefully over each audience member, nearly suffocating them. What is important to note is that each of these examples is accented by a concern for the characters. James Wan spends time reinforcing what makes these characters tick, sharing their emotions, fears and passion. Giving a crap about Ed and Lorraine, being invested in their plight to save Janet Hodgson, is the heartbeat of the film. The scares in The Conjuring 2 lives on those heartbeats reaching out to tickle your goosebumps, steal your breath away and quicken your pulse.

Frances O’Connor stars alongside Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren) as Peggy Hodgson.

There is an interesting moment in the film that most film makers would not include in this type of film. Ed Warren, desperate to provide the troubled Hodgson family with a brief shining light of hope and normalcy, picks up a guitar and begins to belt out a version of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” In the context of The Conjuring 2, it is a particularly important scene in the film. In terms of structure, it comes at a time the audience needs a moment to rest, so it is a very welcomed break, giving the audience time to relax and prepare  for the next round of terror. Emotionally, however, it does double duty of illustrating the bond and love between Ed and Lorraine, at once making Ed a more human character than ever before and accenting Lorraine’s fear of his demise, and of solidifying the connection between Janet, and to a lesser degree the entire Hodgson family, to the Warrens. It raises the stakes and the danger. James Wan builds the character of the Warrens and the family in which they must defend throughout The Conjuring 2 even more so than he did in his prior films The Conjuring and Insidious. It also helps that everyone is so damned good in their roles.

Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) sees a horrifying vision of the future.

Because of this scene and his continued insistence on helping the family even if it risks his own life, Patrick Wilson’s Ed Warren is seemingly the most developed of the characters. Wilson approaches the character with paternal instincts and compassion. This helps in making most of the decisions Ed needs to make more realistic, preventing that often encountered “Why would they do that?” syndrome. For Ed in The Conjuring 2, there are no other choices. Wilson, who has worked with Wan in two Insidious films and the previous The Conjuring, provides his best genre performance to date. He is heroic, charming and dependable. Vera Farmiga is every bit his equal but suffers in comparison as her character is here to be doubtful of the haunting for most of the film. Regardless, Farmiga, between Lorraine Warren and her role as Norma Bates on Bates Motel, is quickly becoming the queen of horror, approaching the genre with a class rarely seen. She is extraordinary in The Conjuring 2 as well. She sells every encounter, making the threat feel incredibly real and elevating the fear and tension. It is the scene on the swing set as she first speaks with Janet that she connects the audience to the troubled young girl in need. In the end, the idea of more adventures in the world of Ed and Lorraine Warren as portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga is a welcomed notion indeed.

Madison Wolfe stars as Janet Hodgson haunted by the spirit of a 72 year old man who died in her family home decades ago.

Above all, The Conjuring 2 rises above the pack due to the remarkable, endearing performance of Madison Wolfe, who draws the audience into the film with her tearful eyes and grave expressions. She is also called upon to do the heavy lifting when encountering the horrors within The Conjuring 2. Much of the film follows her as she faces the ghastly taunting of Bill Wilken’s threats and attacks. James Wan helps Wolfe greatly by focusing on her face as her eyes grow in terror and a tear drops along her cheek, allowing her to embody the scene and its horror. She also provides the character with an enormous amount of courage as she must face these terrors to save her family or, worse, betray her new found friends. The heartbreak, the fear and the strength she affords Janet glues the audience to the character, making all the scares that much more closer to heart. This is what more horror films need to master. While the scares are well crafted and choreographed, it is this emotional tie to the the characters that heightens their effect and makes every scream that much louder.

Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) is haunted by a demonic nun out for her husband’s soul.

James Wan is at the height of his horror career. Having crafted some of the best-known and best-loved horror films of the past decade or so (Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring), Wan displays a playful and confident knowledge of the genre. He knows how to scare his audience. He knows how to pace every scene. He knows how to swoop in and out of the landscapes to both build the environment and use the location to tell the story. He draws upon colors and contrasts to accent the tone and ambiance. His work in The Conjuring 2 is nothing short of impressive. If he hadn’t already done so with his previous work, he has now solidified his signature in film along the masters of horror. His camera is a style onto its own, swooping in with majestic pans and creative character “point of view”  bait-and-switch swings. His color pallet is telling. His decisions to hold a shot or to slowly draw into the focus of the scene are fearless and composed decisions. He plays with light and shadow like a painter, and toys with perspective like a magician. He has his audience in his complete control and is prepared to show them the best of times.

Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) begins to display some signs of possession as the Warrens continue their investigation.

The Conjuring 2 rivals The Exorcist in a way that is uniquely James Wan, providing horror fans with thrills, scares and screams that few films achieve with such skill, precision and purpose. Together with writers Carey and Chad Hayes, they approach the sequel in a way similar to how James Cameron tackled Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Aliens. Wan crafts a sequel that not only stands on its own merit but it also both builds upon its source material and exceeds its predecessor in almost every way. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga embody the theatrical versions of Ed and Lorraine Warren as characters – two parts of a single whole – who struggle with their own fears – and risk their own lives – as they race to rescue a family in need, helping them defeat both the physical world’s dispelling their encounters and the supernatural that threatens their safety. Madison Wolfe steals the film with her phenomenal performance as the bewitched Janet. Frances O’Connor also impresses as Peggy Hodgson, bringing a sad but determined strength to her role. The Conjuring 2 also builds on the supernatural world of the Warrens, adding a number of visuals and terrors that will continue to live in the nightmares of the film’s audience long after the credits roll. These images, embraced by James Wan’s inventive and fluid camera, create a horror film that champions the genre and rewards its fans with one of the most confident theatrical experiences in quite some time. Scary, thrilling, and tense, The Conjuring 2 races through its 2-hours-and-14-minutes run time, ending on a high note that is satisfying and promising to the film, the characters and horror films in general.

The Conjuring 2 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)


Doc Rotten
Editor-In-Chief / Founder / Podcast Producer at Horror News Radio
Doc Rotten is the founder of Gruesome Magazine. He is also a film critic for Gruesome Magazine and the podcast host & producer for Horror News Radio, Monster Movie Podcast, Decades of Horror: 1970s, The American Horror Story Fan Podcast and Hannibal Fan Podcast. He is also co-host of the Dracula podcast on TV TALK and is a contributing reviewer for HorrorNews.Net and Widescreen Warrior.

Doc a lifelong fan of horror films, sci-fi flicks and monster movies first discovering Universal Monsters and Planet of the Apes as a young child in the 1970's searching out every issue of Famous Monster of Filmland (and, later, Fangoria). Favorite films include Jaws, The Car, The Birds, The Tingler, Vampire Circus and The Exorcist. Still a huge fan of horror films from the 70s, Doc continues consuming horror films to this day for the site, for the podcasts and for the fun of it all.