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Renowned demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits. (from Warner Bros.’ official synopsis)

 Conjuring 2, The
Once upon a time, James Wan was the young, affable, punk-haired Aussie that appeared to have stumbled into co-created the most popular horror franchise of the post-9/11 decade, but he quickly ditched the ‘torture porn’ controversy of Saw (2003) and moved on to a more subtle, supernatural brand of horror with Dead Silence (2007). It was not a hit and, following the similar failure of his melancholy vigilante flick, Death Sentence (also 2007), Wan went into Hollywood hiding. Then, he returned with two more spooky, low-gore, haunting movies – Insidious (2011) and The Conjuring (2013) – which were surprise hits and went on to inspire sequels and spin-offs, including Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Annabelle (the only film in the series not to be written or directed by Wan or his Saw partner, Leigh Whannell, 2014), and the subject of this review, The Conjuring 2 (2016). More important to the “big picture” of the American horror movie landscape, these films helped inspire a whole movement of low-to-medium budgeted movies (many produced via Blumhouse Productions) that score massive box-office profits beyond that of most big-budget action franchises – though, in the meantime, Wan did also direct an entry in one of those massive franchises ( Furious 7, 2015) and it was also a runaway success.

Perhaps Wan wasn’t wounded by the failure of Dead Silence, he just put those ideas on hold and waited for the cultural tide to turn away from the ‘70s/’80s inspired grit and violence of movies like Saw and he saw his opportunity at the end of the decade. I’m not a huge fan of any of these movies, but I do appreciate the way they’ve changed the trajectory of horror for the 2010s. While both franchises feel sort of interchangeable – spooky happenings torture a middle-class family who is forced to employ the assistance of a medium – but the Conjuring comes out ahead of Insidious (as well as its lacklustre spin-off). The “based on a true story” angle is one advantage, no matter how loose the adaptation, and it works hand-in-hand with the period setting. Recalling the ‘70s has been popular in horror since the turn of the millennium, but, unlike Saw or Death Sentence, Wan drew upon the era’s supernatural aesthetic to fashion a movie that owes more to The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Last House on the Left. The Conjuring 2 builds a bit on the aesthetic with more modern editing (skip frames, for example) and balletic camera movements, though Wan’s penchant for crane and steady-cam assisted, unbroken shots are straight out of a De Palma film. The scares aren’t quite as creative as I might have liked (the quick ‘living painting’ bit is pretty darn effective), but Wan’s attention to detail helps him craft classier creep-out than most of his contemporaries.

 Conjuring 2, The
The case-by-case nature of the Warrens real-life career supports the concept of a franchise more than Insidious or the bafflingly popular Paranormal Activity movies; both of which spent several movies trapped in a cycling, single event narrative. The Conjuring 2 proves that these movies can play by the rules of a television series, like The X-Files, where the heroes have internal continuity, but fight a different threat every time out. To prove that fact, the sequel opens with a brief re-telling of the Warrens’ most famous case, the Amityville House (kind of a ode to the James Bond series’ pre-credit formula), before moving on to the slightly less famous Enfield Poltergeist case. The case gives Wan and co-writers Chad & Carey Hayes a structural base from which to build up their scary set-pieces. The ‘true story’ is every bit as predictable as most urban legends and campfire tales and this familiarity is part of their appeal for fans, as well as the reason I rarely find myself in love with these types of movies. Conjuring 2 doesn’t entirely avoid the doldrums of the formula, but it makes a considerate effort to focus on characters over plotting and this works in its favour, especially considering the calibre of the cast (plot is pretty ancillary in even the best ghost/haunting movies). Unfortunately, different problems arise when the screenwriters try to tell the Enfield story alongside a mostly unrelated story about an evil nun (who is getting her own spin-off) haunting the Warrens. Wan maintains an impressive pace, but the two stories detract from one another and drive the film to an excessive 2-plus-hour runtime (134 minutes with credits). It takes literally an hour for the two groups of characters to finally converge and, at that point, the quality raises exponentially. I welcomed the improvement, but also lamented the wasted time getting there.

 Conjuring 2, The

Video


The Conjuring 2’s grittier ‘70s look is challenged by the use of Arri Alexa digital HD cameras. Between post-production tampering and the use of stylish lenses, Wan and cinematographer Don Burgess are able to create a decent approximation of 35mm, though this 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer is crisp enough to give away their tricks. Besides the obvious lack of grain, details are very tight, edges are sharp, and the gradations are just too smooth for film. That isn’t to say it is unattractive or that this transfer is subpar. On the contrary, it looks very nice. The most obvious problem, banding/posterisation effects, are possibly the result of the aforementioned tampering. There’s also the fact that this is a very, very dark movie and the transfer is constantly fighting to maintain fine details without damaging the purity of the eerie setting. For the most part, I’m impressed with how clear everything is, despite the purposeful black crush. The more explicit digital grading offers a more eclectic platte than the last film, where almost everything appeared brown and tan. The base palette is cobalt and orange, which works very nicely for the darkest scenes. Daylight scenes in London utilize pinks, reds, and lavenders to delineate elements, while the American-set scenes are warm with more natural skin tones and greens.

Audio


The Conjuring 2 comes fitted with a super-spooky Dolby Atmos soundtrack. This review pertains to the Dolby TrueHD core audio, though, so my experience was slightly stifled. The more generalized creepy winds, creaking floors, and pants-pooping jump-scare moments match expectations as they fill the channels with subtle and not-so-subtle cues, but I’m more impressed with the film’s unique effects, especially the warbling ‘floop’ sound that signifies supernatural transportations. Modern horror movies have long since figured out how to play with surround speakers and high dynamic range (sure enough, any time the ambience is sucked out of the track, a very loud scare is on the horizon), but creative LFE use often eludes them. Less scary (and quieter) environmental effects and dialogue are neatly separated as well. Joseph Bishara’s nightmarish chamber music sets the tone beautifully with dramatic vocals, searing strings, and unnerving dissonance. His score isn’t the most memorable in recent history, but its sheer impact is very impressive.

 Conjuring 2, The

Extras


  • The Conjuring 2: Hollywood’s Haunted Stage (10:09, HD) – A slightly fluffy behind-the-scenes EPK built around cast & crew interviews, rough on-set footage, and scenes from the film.
  • The Enfield Poltergeist: Living The Horror (12:46, HD) – An all too short look back at the actual case with Lorraine Warren, the filmmakers, some of the real family members, and others who experienced the paranormal activity. It includes photos and tape recordings from the incident (some of which is also used for the film’s end credits).
  • Creating Crooked (6:44, HD) – Concerning the design and execution of the nursery rhyme-based ‘Crooked Man’ spirit that menaces the characters in the film.
  • The Conjuring 2: Hollywood’s Haunted Stage (5:08, HD) – Paranormal Investigator Johnny Matook and his team explore the supposedly haunted Warner Bros. Studios stage where The Conjuring 2 was shot.
  • The Sounds of Scary (7:00, HD) – Joseph Bishara and other filmmakers talk about the film’s visceral musical score.
  • Four deleted/extended scenes (6:31, HD)
  • Trailers for other WB releases


 Conjuring 2, The

Overall


Shorn of the nun subplot (which is as shameless a set-up for spin-offs and sequels as seen in any Marvel Universe movie), a few stereotypical sequences of pre-supernatural family drama, and maybe two or three hauntings, Conjuring 2 could’ve been a streamlined into a near-masterpiece. Fortunately, it’s still good enough to make this particular ‘unbeliever’ look forward to the next entry. There are also (possibly intended?) references to Lucio Fulci’s Gothic Trilogy ( City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery) during the climax, so that’s a pretty big plus. The Blu-ray has a few minor posterisation issues that were probably present in the original material, a very effective Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD core) soundtrack, and includes some reasonably informative extras

 Conjuring 2, The

 Conjuring 2, The
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer..


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