Recently: “The Conjuring 2”

No matter where you turn there’s always a sequel. Some have you more excited than others, but at the end of any given year, you’re probably suffering from some kind of sequel fatigue. How can you not, especially during the Summer? It’s one sequel after another, with no end in sight. Even after the Summer there’s still the possibility of more sequels. When will the madness end?!

The Warner Bros. Pictures film “The Conjuring 2”, lives up to expectations and shows what can happen when a sequel is in capable hands.

This horror film stars Patrick Wilson (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, “Fargo (TV series)”), Vera Farmiga (“Special Correspondents”, “The Judge”), Frances O’Connor (“Cleverman”, “The Missing”), Madison Wolfe (upcoming “Cold Moon”, “Keanu”), Simon McBurney (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, The Casual Vacancy”), Franka Potente (“The Bridge”, “Copper”), Simon Delaney (“Trollied”, “Spiders Trap”), Maria Doyle Kennedy (“Orphan Black”, “Sing Street”), Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh (“The People Next Door (TV Short 2016)”, “Live at the Electric”), Patrick McAuley, Shannon Kook (“A Christmas Horror Story”, “Dark Places”), Bob Adrian (“Identical”, “Rap Sucks”), and Sterling Jerins (“No Escape”, “Dark Places”).

The film is directed by James Wan (“Insidious: Chapter 2”, “The Conjuring”) and written by Carey Hayes (“The Conjuring”, “The Reaping”), Chad Hayes (“The Conjuring”, “The Reaping”), Wan (“Doggie Heaven”), and David Johnson (“Mob City”, “Wrath of the Titans”).

The film originally opened on June 10, 2016.

As I noted yesterday, the sequel has arrived! And like any good moviegoer, I chose the better of the few new releases. It’s also a sequel that looked really, really good, and Wan was back to direct, so I couldn’t say no! Some films just have me really excited! And after seeing this one, so long as a good director is chosen, I’m confident this series could do with at least one more film. After that, I’m not so sure. Sometimes a film franchise doesn’t need to be around through 10 sequels.

For now, let’s just celebrate and look at what made this an effective follow up, and once again shows just what kind of director Wan is.

His use of control and suspense building is once again absolutely on point! Keeping a familiar approach allowed for so much discomfort and eeriness, that I’m not sure I like older looking London buildings now. That’s also a good thing, much like with other period films, is the look of the time. How much it doesn’t just reinforce the era, but tells you a lot about what it must’ve been like living during that time. In this case, you’re treated to just how dark and scary any one home could actually be. Even though the cinematographer was a different person, I was never able to tell. That consistency once more brought to frightening life, a simple home where one should feel safe. I loved how much the camera caught and not only turned this small house into something seemingly bigger, but kept me always on edge. There were still enough places for something to be lurking, and that’s before you consider how the house was decorated or set up to show that people lived there.

Once more the score, was composed by Joseph Bishara (“The Other Side of the Door”, “Insidious” films), and it was everything I’ve come to know and love of his work in these horror films. This is another area where consistency came into play. No, not just the sound, which was equal parts familiar and different. Take the opening. After the first scene, we’re given some writing in and the title, all in yellow. As these come on screen, Bishara’s creepy score starts to play until it peaks at the title’s reveal and as it fades. Perfect! Then, like with Wan, he knows how to manipulate the senses and lead you through many moments, all the while keeping you on your toes. Sometimes things would happen when you’d expect, other times nothing, or a different something. To me, his work in this film (and the others I’ve seen, let’s be honest) certainly shows that he’s paid attention to the ways scares were elicited and how suspense and fear were built in the older films from the ‘60s and ‘70s. If this isn’t the case, then he’s somehow thought up this approach and made it work the best.

Speaking of scares! This is harder to talk about. I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday and I can’t come up with a clear cut way to talk about them. Mind you, it’s tough anyway, what with not being able to spoil things, but I’ll manage somehow. I liked them. A lot. I may not have been as scared or terrified as I was some other recent horror films, but this was like the next best thing. I was jumping every now and then, and not from simple jump scares, and then the momentum form the various sequences kept up! So many sequences somehow did feel much scarier (the creepy nun and the crooked man!), even though I can’t fully explain how they did. Perhaps the simple fact that I know I was scared more, and could feel it, is enough. Wan and the other writers made sure to up their collective game. Because of this, the execution was well done and everything worked. I also feel that maybe it’s the simple fact that this particular story was just more frightening. Not just because of what the real life inspirations encountered and documented, but because Wan and co are quite creative themselves. Maybe it’s both, but something worked really well, that I’m hopeful for whatever horror Wan may do in the future.

One thing that I feel I need to talk about is the Amityville opening. I won’t spoil anything, other than that the opening involves this particular haunting and some of the controversy that surrounded it. I’m just surprised that writers did mention it in any way, shape, or form. I was wondering if they would, as it seemed kind of pointless, given the original “The Amityville Horror” film and remake, not to mention all the sequels, but they did. Mind you, it was in a very different way than I was expecting. It allowed creativity to flourish and brought in another aspect that’s dogged the Warren’s and paranormal investigations for decades. Are these hauntings or possessions real or just some elaborate hoax? A great caveat that the writers could’ve easily skipped, but somehow it made this film much more fun. It’s not just sticking to the recorded history, but allowing it to become part of the story and influence how the characters behave. It’s interesting too, that because of this approach, we’re introduced to more real life people, but now as characters. I got super excited recognizing a character’s name from research I’d done on the Warrens and some of the cases and people involved. Oh! And the opening, like the original film’s, bridges time too, even though we’re told what year it is. Oddly I’m okay with this.

What I’m also okay with is how well the writers pushed Farmiga’s and Wilson’s character’s stories forward, as well as the many new characters that populated this film. I still believe most horror films don’t spend any time with characters, on any level, and the ones that try just fail at it. Here, I think I was able to get great character insights as well as the tension and horror fun I deserved! I learned so much about the Warren’s and saw how they adjusted to the negative side of investigating the paranormal. Disbelief. While the whole back and forth debate on whether a particular haunting was a hoax or not was primarily a plot device, it still worked wonders for giving me a look at how seriously Farmiga and Wilson take their jobs. I could understand why they kept putting themselves in danger. Then, their lives just progressed forward in different ways, and you continued to like them and hope they could get through the next paranormal encounter.

The new family, the Hodgson’s, are also given great character treatment. I understood and cared quickly. The family dynamics were there, and you saw how much O’Connor cares for her kids. I’d say that even with a tough financial situation, and the demonic presence, they were all doing pretty okay. There wasn’t a false moment with any of the family drama, before, during or after the haunting. It’s certainly another instance where I just care about these people and can’t help but be afraid when anything bad is happening to them. This is a largely factionalized story of real events, so who knows what directions Wan and his writers could’ve taken. Maybe they would’ve been bold and killed off some of the kids, but since most films don’t kill off children, it was still highly unlikely. Oh! And I loved that Mrs. S had a role in this film, even though she’s not part of the Hodgson’s family! So exciting!! No I will not explain that reference to you.

For a little while at least, I can rest easy. Or take it easy? I can do something, especially as I know I’ve gotten a good horror film and horror sequel. Up until now I don’t think I’ve put much thought into whether or not the sequel to a horror film would, or could, be good. Granted, now I’m doing this, and it’s making me look at films in ways I never thought I could, or would. Regardless of the how, I’m content. For at least another few months I can bask in the glory that is this well done film, and hope that the other directors and writers who dream of making horror look at what Wan has done thus far in his career. Oh, wait, what’s that? A sequel opens on Friday of this week? And another sequel the week after that? Plus there’s at least four sequels the next month?! So much for being content or happy.

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