Let me start by answering the first question that most of you are wondering: Is The Conjuring 2 as scary as the first one? It wasn’t for me. But this is one of those cases where your mileage will definitely vary. One of the primary elements of the story, and a source of most of the scares for the film, is just something that I personally don’t find scary. You might, in which case you’ll find the movie as terrifying as literally everyone but me has.
So, that’s it, right? In Horror, the only important thing is that your movie is terrifying, right? And I’ve said that I didn’t find the movie particularly scary (for the most part).
Actually, I think that The Conjuring 2 is a fantastic movie, maybe better than the first one. And it is every bit as important for Horror as the first film was, if the genre learns the right lessons from it.
I won’t talk at length about the tense atmosphere or the breathtaking cinematography or the chilling music (although any of these make the movie worth its ticket price). I won’t even talk about the nice twist that leads to a much stronger third act than in the first movie, in my opinion.
Instead, I want to talk about the characters.
Almost without exception, the characters are fantastic. Every single character feels fully-fleshed, dynamic, and real. These characters are clever, brave, and goodhearted. They make you root for them, to a one.
There’s the downtrodden mom who’s still trying to do right by her kids as her world crumbles around her, one of the daughters who has become a target for a large part of the abuse from the supernatural entity, the siblings who try to stand up for her despite having no way to defend themselves, and even a neighbor family who stand steadfastly by the family through their descent into horror. I especially appreciated the neighbors’ dad, who reminded me of Samwise Gamgee when things got hairy.
But above and beyond all of these wonderful characters are the Warrens. Ed and Lorraine Warren are, off the top of my head, the best couple in any movie. I haven’t seen a functional, effective couple like this since The Thin Man (1934). They’re strong, sympathetic characters on their own, and either would make for a fantastic protagonist like Ellen Ripley from Alien or MacReady from The Thing.
But what really makes them amazing is the way they work together. They share with one another, comfort one another, and always, no matter what, respect one another. They’re a better couple than anyone in Horror, one of the best couples in any genre. And it never feels forced or overly-sentimental. It always feels grounded.
Did I mention these characters characters are smart? Because they’re incredibly smart. Any long-time Horror enthusiast will know how impressive the following statement was: There was only ONE instance in the entire movie where I felt a character was acting stupid (without proper motivation) in the name of giving the audience a scare. Only one character, one time, in the entire movie. Not once did I have to write off a character with “You deserve whatever happens for being so stupid”, which steals my sympathy from more Horror characters than not.
All of this comes together to make an incredibly engaging story that feels driven by the characters despite the supernatural events taking place in the story. This is what Horror needs to learn. Have all your characters smart and sympathetic, and when horrific things happen to them, we will care!
The Conjuring 2 scared me less than the first movie, but kept me at least as entertained. I’d highly recommend going to see this if you love Horror. Or if you like good characters and a good story and have a decent stomach for Horror.
The element that I don’t find scary? Possession. It’s a large part of the movie, and it’s just not something that scares me.
The moment that I felt they had a character do something stupid for a scare: When Ed peeks in at the music box near the end. WHO would stick their head into a tent that already has documented supernatural activity? Particularly when the demon has already nearly blinded you and you’re flailing around in a panic?
I found the Crooked Man to be TERRIFYING. Both of the big moments with that manifestation were incredible (yes, I did love the scare that I just complained about the setup for).
I didn’t find the nun manifestation that scary. In fact, I found her kind of silly. That said, once I saw the painting scare, I saw why they chose that appearance, and could at least respect their design for her in that light.
The biting really got me. The thought of a creepy old man ghost biting a little girl creeped me right out.
I love how everything leading up to the climax had plausible alternate explanations from an outside perspective. I almost found myself making a game of explaining to myself how that could have happened if the mom/daughter were behind it.
I do have questions left over. For instance: did the Warrens just happen to stumble across another house haunted by the same demon? Or did the demon draw them there somehow? I’ve been told that the Warrens’ house had the demon’s name all over the place (a detail I missed, suggesting that it had been following them, and maybe manipulated them.
Having the “man behind the man” trope used by a demon enslaving a ghost was pretty brilliant. I’ll have to rewatch to see how much sense the old man’s actions make in that context.
I do think that their fight against the demon was a tad easy after she learned its name, but I understand that they’d kind of written themselves into a corner. Just a bit more of a struggle during the climax there would have made the ending feel more complete, more definite. But it works ok as is.