Despite my initial skepticism that The Conjuring 2 could deliver the scares of the original, it slowly won me over. It’s by no means better than its predecessor, but it’s still comparable in style and tone.
It looks and feels like 1970’s Americana horror, a la The Omen, The Exorcist, The Sentinel, and The Changeling. I say this because of the colourless neutral scheme of the movie, and the faded Technicolor look of the digital print. Wan makes plenty of homages to that golden era of supernatural thrillers. For one, the nun is taken straight from The Sentinel. Also, Poltergeist comes to mind during one scene involving a juvenile girl toying with a static television set. Honestly, after watching the recent Poltergeist, I think grounding a movie in a past era is a working formula. The horror becomes all the more isolated and claustrophobic when the characters lack modern conveniences.
The majority of the Conjuring 2 takes place in the same shitty London duplex—you can almost smell the moldy wallpaper. The dynamic camera movement keeps the location from getting stale. Sometimes the viewer is a fly on the ceiling, or they assume the first person obscured vision of the hero. Other times the camera pans slowly to build tension to an inevitable jump scare or simply pans from night to day to keep pace with the slow burning tension. The devil is in these details, because the camera work really sets the tone for the movie. There’s no shortage of jump scares, but they never felt cheap; it isn’t just shit popping out at the camera. Wan orchestrates a spooky ambience in almost every scene, builds up the bubble of tension to a fever pitch and then varies on when exactly he decides to pop it.
The story is lacking when compared to the original, but it’s on par with most modern horror. This isn’t exactly a compliment or an insult: the script exists. Like most procession films, a demon attaches itself to a pubescent girl and generally wreaks havoc. Then the family calls the Ghostbusters, Ed and Lorrain Warren—who, in actuality, never experienced anything more exciting than a table moving three inches—to come and kick the limey ghost’s ass out of their worn down flat. Thankfully, Wan’s visuals shine through the mundane story. He’s a master at creating tension through what the audience can see, and the protagonist cant. Be it an evil nun at the end of a hall, an old man seated in a recliner, breathing over the hero’s shoulder, or a shadowy figure moving through the depths of a flooded basement.
Sadly, in the third act of The Conjuring 2, the filmmakers forgot the golden rule of supernatural horror: Less is more. And, as a result, they decided to create a giant CGI Slenderman bastardization. In a film dominated by practical effects, a CGI monster stands out like a sore thumb. It looks unreal and doesn’t lend itself to the same terror of a still figure in the darkness. Also, on a nit picky note, the evil nun sports a pair of laughable shark-teeth dentures—Anyone who grew up in a catholic school knows that nuns are scary enough as is.
This leads into another point of criticism, that doesn’t affect me, but certainly others. The 1970’s Supernatural Americana horror that I’ve been speaking of is grounded in Christendom, and if you didn’t grow up Christian, it likely doesn’t scare you. It’s why the phenomenon of a film like the exorcist will never happen again. And it’s why this film, and its predecessor, though great, still only amount to ode to that aforementioned golden age.
Wan’s seemingly aware of this. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel; he’s just repurposing an old one for a new generation. I noted the poor aspects to the film, but nothing ripped me completely out of the experience. Wan practiced a lot of restraint when placed side by side with his peers in horror. And, it’s refreshing to see a film that’s ballsy enough to avoid being Meta, a film that’s willing to wear the crown of old school horror shamelessly. In my opinion, there’s no school like the old school, and Wan’s the fucking head master.