The Conjuring 2 Brings Less Dust, More Brits

Hello, everyone! I watched The Conjuring 2 last weekend. My immediate impression is that James Wan fired his old set designer and finally got someone to clean up all the dust from the first movie. Compared to the the first Conjuring, this film was glossier and more compelling, but it was overall a tamer film. The majority of the scares were of the jumping variety, but there were a few standouts, which I’ll cover in more detail below. But was there a witch who lurks on top of wardrobes? No, no there was not.

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I miss this. It’s just so wtf-worthy. How did she get up there? Why did she get up there? What was her thought process?

Plot Synopsis: The movie opens with Lorraine and Ed Warren investigating the iconic Amityville House for signs of demonic possession. Lorraine enters a dream sequence, where she meets a demonic nun who shows her a vision of Ed being impaled. Lorraine is shaken by the dream, so much so that she decides that she and her husband should stop taking new cases. Meanwhile, in Enfield, London, the Hodgson family is being plagued by an otherworldly presence. It possesses Janet, the second oldest child, and makes her levitate, teleport, and speak in tongues. The family tries to leave the house, but the hauntings continue, manifesting in the guises of an old man and the Crooked Man.

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Back at the Warren’s house, Ed has a dream of the nun and paints a realistic picture, which he hangs on the walls. This disturbs Lorraine, who realizes that the nun must be warning both of them to stop their work. Lorraine has a second dark vision in which the nun visits her house and plays tricks with the painting. Lorraine is further convinced that they must stop their demonology work, but Ed insists that they go to London to help the Hodgsons and determine if their case is a real instance of a demonic possession, or merely a fraud.

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As the situation in the Hodgson family begins to intensify, Lorraine and Ed realize that the paranormal entity isn’t the ghost of a former resident, but a powerful, vicious demon. In order to save the Hodgsons, Lorraine must try to destroy the demon, while also keeping Ed safe.

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My Take: Wan has made at least five horror movies now, but it’s in The Conjuring 2 that his style takes on a definitive, recognizable form. The film is beautiful, probably the most appealing looking horror movie since The Babadook. The movie references several other horror movies. For instance, the red and blue color scheme is reminiscent of that of The Babadook, as is the spindly legged, cloaked in shadows Crooked Man character. There is also a clever reference to the tent scene in The Sixth Sense and the very distinctive dream sequences, which are a throwback to Wan’s own film Insidious. I love seeing horror movies reference other horror movies because it shows an awareness of the craft. The Conjuring 2 shows an awareness that I feel like the first one didn’t show, an awareness of his status as an It-director, an awareness that that this movie will be a blockbuster, and as a blockbuster the audience will demand certain things, like romance, beauty, and horror movie tropes.

Though that awareness created a sleeker overall movie, it also meant some sacrifice of originality. The main problem is that the second Conjuring movie feels like a re-tread of the first movie, as well as Insidious and Insidious 2. Take the issue of the three “demons” in the house. At first, Janet is haunted by the ghost of an old man named Bill Wilkins. But Bill, as it turns out, isn’t very scary. So then, another demon arrives, The Crooked Man. Now, he’s creepy, but he’s not used very much, and his face is shown too soon, which alleviates any mystery surrounding the character. Those two aren’t enough, so Wan introduces the real demon mastermind behind all of the hauntings: the evil nun.

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As soon as I saw the evil nun, I was having flashbacks to the first two Insidious movies. Because this nun looks a lot like the evil veiled woman in Insidious and Insidious 2. 

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And they’re basically the same demon too. Both of them want to possess children, both of them dress as women, both of them are actually men. This multitude of demons makes everything too chaotic. Three demons doesn’t mean three times the scary, it just means the viewer has three times more demons to take care of. They also tend to get desensitized by an overload of evil being thrown at the screen. If I could’ve chosen one paranormal entity to stick with, I would have chosen The Crooked Man, because I’ve seen that type of character used to tremendous effect in Mama and The Babadook. The white-faced man in drag is definitely less scary.

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The shadow of The Crooked Man in the film
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The Babadook

There’s also the inclusion of the “creepy” toys, like the spinning zoetrope/ circular flipbook, which reminds me very heavily of the old spinning mirror in the first Conjuring. Speaking of toys, how many times can a toy car be involved in a ghost haunting before parents unanimously decide to toss them all? It’s like the E.T tennis ball scene all over again. Listen kids, if you place any toy in a hidden place and it comes back to you of its own volition, don’t go near it, just leave!

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 Creepy old spinning mirror
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Creepy old spinning zoetrope

The plot wasn’t exactly new, since basically any movie with the Catholic church and demonic possession will inevitably remind me of The Exorcist, but it wasn’t so familiar that I felt like I knew the story from the beginning. I appreciated the way that Wan worked the Warren’s romance into the main conflict of the story. It was fun to worry that Ed might be in mortal danger, even though the upcoming Conjuring 3 mitigated any fears of him dying in action. Centering the film in late 70s Britain made the whole concept feel more novel. Blimey if those kids weren’t the most earnest little Brits I’ve ever seen. And every single kid had the shaggy-fringe haircut. At points, I was like “I get, Wan, they’re British, you can stop now,” but at other times, they were pretty amusing.

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Look at the fringe!

Most of the film relied on jump scares. But this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I didn’t feel like these jump scares were cheap or overused. They felt earned, even if they weren’t the most honorable way to scare the audience. But there were a few scenes that were just shy of terrifying. One such scene is the nun painting scene, which if you’ve been on Reddit,  you know that it has been talked about to much acclaim. I won’t spoil it here, but I’ll say that Wan knows how to properly utilize suspense and dark spaces. Another good scene involved the reflection in a television, which always provides a good scare, and another was a classic “talking to the unseen figure” type of scene. I’m of the opinion that when Wan relies on the tried-and-true basics, he can make a masterful film, but it’s only when he tries to do much that he inhibits himself.

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Was it scary? I’ll say that when I was in the theater, I covered my eyes a few times, and at home, I made sure to flick on the hallway light. But it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me, not like the original Conjuring did. The difference was that the original Conjuring was a dusty, dirty, nasty film. The demon was vicious and mean and caused real harm to the family. The exorcism scene in the basement was brutal and gory. The atmospherics were not pretty and blue and red. Everything was grey, and brown, and dismal. But this Conjuring is pretty, and blue, and red. The family wasn’t isolated like in the original. There was always someone to help them if they screamed. Futhermore, the demon in this movie didn’t seem interested in doing any harm to Janet or the rest of the family. It seemed more focused on general Poltergeist mayhem, which in itself is more bothersome than scary.

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Mean scary ghost
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Not a very mean ghost. 

In the end, those differences are what separate a really scary movie from a creepy movie. If I have to genuinely worry about the safety of the characters, or if the entity in question is causing real harm, then I will be scared. But if the only demon’s only threat is that he’ll rearrange your kitchen and flip over your crosses, I’ll pass on being frightened. To be truly scary, you have to be mean. The Conjuring 2 showed an awareness of self, and of its audience, which as the franchise’s  popularity grows, will head towards the mainstream. I have a feeling that the next Conjuring  will follow the second movie’s lead in emphasizing the visuals, but foregoing the nastiness. I’ll still go and watch it.

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As long as it’s not a spin-off of the zoetrope toy

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