I was doubtful of director James Wan (Insidious, Saw) when I heard he picked up this disproven incident as the main storyline of The Conjuring 2. The story in 2013’s The Conjuring involving the Perron family still spooks me, with it’s secluded setting of past witch trials and murders, manifesting into a modern-day mother who’s driven to killing her own children. It made sense, it was extremely scary, and any loopholes were small enough to fix, especially by master of horror Mr. Wan.
But it seems like Wan has developed a soft-spot for sympathetic storylines and emotional pulls since he directed Furious 7 in 2015. The Conjuring is stellar for it’s horror lasting the entire movie; there is no safe moment once the hauntings begin. The Conjuring 2, with its bloated 134 minute runtime, flips between the sentimental Warren relationship and suspenseful horror sequences to create a generally uncomfortable experience not based on the movie’s horror but on the constant switching between two wildly different atmospheres.
There’s the real chilling stuff, like 11-year-old Janet sleepwalking and seeing an old man, the previous owner of the home who died in the living room chair from a brain hemorrhage and now refuses to leave, and having this old man speak through her and contorting her into confined closets. There’s even a children’s toy CGI “Crooked Man,” who bears a strong resemblance in character to 2014’s The Babadook, that bursts through dark spaces when least expected. And there’s the perfectly timed jump scares with faces appearing in the water and paintings coming to life that Wan is so skilled at. No matter how many of his flicks I’ve seen, his impeccable timing still manages to shake me.
But juxtaposed with this is some familial storyline and punk-rock English music that throws The Conjuring 2 off it’s game just too often. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are tired of demon-hunting; they’ve got a daughter to raise and the constant nightmarish images have started to take a toll on their well-being. Lorraine has started to have visions of her own Ed dying, and The Conjuring 2 tests this couple with pretty uninspired speeches in the rain and an uncomfortably long Elvis Presley singalong that feels like a video game cutscene you want to skip through.
The mix between sappy and scary can result in some unexpectedly endearing moments, like when Ed lifts up a ghost-hunting video camera from the present-day 1970s that looks so ancient compared to our iPhones and boasts, “It’s so small and light!”. When it comes to horror movies, less is more, and Wan spends a little too much time showing us the Crooked Man and the many demons of The Conjuring 2 to really haunt his audiences. He literally spells out the ending on bookshelves in the background of scenes, and his surprising laziness makes me question if he’s moved on to full blockbusters now (he’s currently directing DC Comic’s Aquaman). The Conjuring 2 is a pleasant movie with a familial feel-good story, but a barely decent horror movie that’s more harmed by carrying the same name as it’s heavy, stellar predecessor. It’s overindulgent and ends in predictable anticlimax- the Warrens prevail and then dance away in domestic bliss- but it is loads better than 2015’s weird prequel-sequel Annabelle (I know that doesn’t say much). If there is a Conjuring 3 - and these endings always suggest another addition - I hope the director is more choosy in story so that the horror elements don’t have to pillowed with unnecessary, saccharine fluff.