Although he made his first mark with “Saw” – a film that launched one of the goriest franchises in film history – director James Wan demonstrated with the 2013 release “The Conjuring” that he didn’t need blood and guts to scare. In “The Conjuring,” he masterfully used things that go bump in the night to create hair-raising tension.
He’s done it again with the sequel, “The Conjuring 2.”
All of the thrills and chills are created by starting with the real life story of self-taught ghostbusters Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and her husband, Ed (Patrick Wilson), Warren. The couple were involved with many notable cases during their long careers, including an examination of the Amityville hauntings.
The first film took place before the married couple became the rock stars of paranormal investigations with Amityville. The sequel, “Conjuring 2,” takes place a year after the Amityville horror as they travel to a small community in North London to investigate a much publicized haunting. The second film is also based on their true story.
Wan returns to the directing chair using the same tricks of the trade that made the first film work so well. He’s patient in rolling out the scares, which means the terror builds slowly and steadily. By the time the Warrens have a final showdown with the evil that has terrorized the family, all it takes is a tap to create deep chills.
So many horror movies do little more than create a checklist of victims to get eliminated before the final credits. Just as in the original film, this sequel has more depth. Screenwriter brothers Chad and Carey Hayes create people to sympathize with, which makes the evil being done to them feel more real. The fact the main demonic assault is aimed at a young girl gives the writers an extra edge – a natural sense of urgency that comes when a child is in danger.
Because the story doesn’t float along on a river of blood, there is time for the characters to deal with real issues, from abandonment to poverty. This is particularly important in the case of the Warrens, who again are portrayed as a husband-and-wife team who have a really weird job, not as eccentric scam artists.
“The Conjuring 2” doesn’t shy away from skeptics, offering both rational and irrational explanations for events. The writers have cranked up the paranormal activity at the end, but they make this is a film “based” on a real story and not a documentary.
Wan again counts on Farmiga, who always finds a way to be both delicate and tough. Wilson continues his string of playing characters dealing with deep angst. The tension between the pair this time comes from Lorraine’s concern that they have spent so much time facing pure evil that their lives are in serious danger. But there’s never a doubt these people are deeply in love.
Lily Taylor helped sell the first movie playing the mother to the family needing help from the Warrens. This time it’s Frances O’Connor as the scared and broken mom whose life has become a hellish nightmare due to a spirit that won’t leave their house. O’Connor brings the same kind of grounded power that made Taylor’s performance so good.
Once again, the movie’s strength is in the way Wan plays out the scary moments. He takes safe and special items, like a child’s toys, and uses them as instruments of terror. This works so well because an audience can relate to the simple items.
“The Conjuring” showed that the right director, script and actors can make a movie that’s scary without having to resort to the now-trite tricks of blood and gore.
The Conjuring 2
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe
Director: James Wan
Rating: R (terror, violence)
Opens: Friday, June 10