Back in 2013, a little horror film called “The Conjuring” landed in theaters. The trailers made it look like it could be a fun chiller, especially since it was coming from director James Wan, who had given us such films as the original “Saw” (the only decent entry in the franchise) and “Insidious” (not a particularly good film, but one that did well as far as its mood and atmosphere were concerned). What we got instead was a bland, lazily-written, cliché-filled mess that lacked scares and a story and characters worth caring about. Because of this, the thought of a sequel was not the most welcome thing imaginable when it comes to horror offerings. After all, how often is it that a sequel in this genre ends up being better than its predecessor? Therefore, it was with great reluctance that I found myself sitting in a theater about to watch what I was almost certain was going to be the next big horror disaster.
The film begins in 1976 with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) investigating the Amityville incident, a case that has left the latter quite shaken and wanting to take a little time off. Meanwhile, in London, we meet the Hodgson family, who has been experiencing some very strong paranormal activity. Most of the activity seems to be concentrated around young Janet (Madison Wolfe), who occasionally speaks in the voice of a man who supposedly died in their house. In an attempt to get the help her family needs, Janet’s mother (Frances O’Connor), tries to get their story out in the public eye, which eventually leads to the Warrens being made aware of it. Ed assures Lorraine that they will simply visit to observe and report back to the church on what they find, but what they discover ends up being far worse than they originally thought.
Watching “The Conjuring 2” was a somewhat strange experience. As mentioned earlier, there was no reason to expect much of anything from it, especially since the first film was a dismal bore, but nevertheless, I approached the sequel with an open mind in hopes of something better. Oddly enough, it didn’t take long for the first signs of a better film to appear. Right away we are treated to some of the expertly-crafted atmosphere that Wan has become known for (even in his lesser films), which subsequently leads right into the main story. You may recall that this is where the original film had a lot of trouble, mainly in its character development and buildup of tension and scares, which only served to turn the story into a long road to nowhere.
Well, it would appear that the writers learned a thing or two from last time, as this time around, the characters are far better developed, the scares are much more plentiful (though they do remain tethered to age-old jump scares), and the story is told in a considerably more compelling manner. Basically, the sequel takes almost everything that was wrong with the first film and vastly improves upon it, leading to a horror experience that ranks as one of the better offerings of the last few years.
That’s not to say that the film is without its own problems. Just like its predecessor, the film is stretched out to a far longer runtime than it needs to be at 133 minutes, though it’s not quite as noticeable this time what with the story doing a better job of keeping the audience engaged. That being said, it could have easily stood to lose about 30 minutes, especially from its overly-stretched ending, as well as a number of scenes that only ended up making the film slow down quite a bit (did we really need to have Ed serenade the Hodgson children with Elvis’ “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You?”). Again, not as big a problem as before, when there wasn’t nearly enough story to fill even the shorter runtime of 112 minutes, but still, a little editing here would have done wonders for the lax pacing of the film’s latter half.
While “The Conjuring 2” may not be the next great horror film (still waiting on that one…), it is a welcome surprise that gets a lot of things right when it comes to a very difficult genre. It provides a number of good scares, while balancing them out with an unexpected dash of humor to help lighten the ever-tense mood. What’s even more fun is when the two go hand in hand, as it does so often throughout the film (i.e. a jump moment that gets the adrenaline running, but makes you laugh a half-second later, especially if you’re watching it with people who are easily scared). It’s the rare case of a sequel being not just a little better than the original, but one that is far superior in nearly every way possible. It might not knock your socks off when it comes to originality (the single most difficult thing to do when it comes to this genre), but there’s easily enough here to give any horror fan just the kind of treat they’re looking for.
“The Conjuring 2” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. Like its predecessor, this is a very dark film, but the image remains perfectly sharp and clear throughout the entire duration, even during the dimmest of scenes. The 5.1 Dolby Atmos audio is equally excellent, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and loud bangs on the soundtrack in great quality. Overall, the film has been given top-notch treatment, ensuring you get the best experience possible.
Crafting The Conjuring 2 (10 Minutes): A neat little behind the scenes featurette that takes a look at the making of the film. Includes lots of interviews with the cast and crew.
The Enfield Poltergeist: Living the Horror (13 Minutes): A fascinating look at the real-life events that inspired the film.
Creating Crooked (7 Minutes): A featurette that explores how The Crooked Man was brought to life.
The Conjuring 2: Hollywood’s Haunted Stage (5 Minutes): A brief featurette that follows a paranormal team as they explore the stage on which the film was shot.
The Sounds of Scary (7 Minutes): A featurette in which the film’s composer and musicians discuss the score.
Deleted Scenes (7 Minutes): A collection of deleted sequences that were more than likely trimmed to help with the pacing.
With well-developed characters, a chilling atmosphere, and a creepy story told in a compelling manner, “The Conjuring 2” makes for a far superior sequel to a film that had major issues in all of these areas. Like the original film, it still runs far longer than it needs to, but thanks to its massive improvements in just about all other areas, it doesn’t cause nearly as big a problem this time around. In the end, it’s simply a fun little horror film that does a lot of things right, and because of that, it’s sure to please even the pickiest of horror fans.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates.